How Puneites Can Save the City from “Catastrophic” Deluge Disaster
Encroachments on hills, hill slopes and flood lines of river banks; cementing of nullahs, small streams and aquifers during construction; absence or wrong design of storm water drains and; plastic litter choking water bodies, has led to a grave situation in Pune, which surfaces as life threatening water logging (as was seen on 5th and 25th September); during torrential rains that have been lashing Pune due to climate change.
 
These grave concerns were raised at the 300th RTI Katta organised by the RTI Katta group and Moneylife Foundation on Sunday. The expert panel comprising civic experts Sarang Yadvakar, Vinod Bodhankar, Abhijit Ghorpade and Vijay Kumbhar, stated in unison and in a note of emergency that, it is time for Puneites to raise their voices and put pressure on the Pune Municipal Corp (PMC), in large numbers, as their lives are being threatened due to illegal encroachments and criminal mismanagement of the civic authority. 
 
Mr Yadvadkar gave a detailed presentation of the havoc created due to unholy nexus of civic authorities, local political leaders and builder and developer body that has led to illegal building permissions and encroachments since the last two decades. This has led to a “catastrophic” situation, he said. 
 
 
He further warned that the two days of heavy rains on 5th and 25th September this year, which resulted in deaths of several citizens is but a trailer. “As per the climate change report provided by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), on behalf of the PMC, which assigned it the task, the city will face the maximum amount of rains in short spells that will lead to dangerous flash flooding, with every passing year.  Hence, it is essential now for citizens to come out in large numbers to protest against PMC’s disastrous acts and put pressure on it to stop development on hills, hill slopes, put in place an effective storm water drain system, clear water bodies of debris and halt construction in flood line demarcations of the Mula and Mutha rivers.’’
 
Abhijit Ghorpade, senior journalist and academician who has written extensively on this issue stated that, “first and foremost, we need to establish a communication and warning system by which citizens are immediately forewarned, about the areas, chowks and roads where flooding has taken place and warned that they should not go there. Presently, a commuter comes to know of rising waters only after he or she has almost reached the spot amidst great traffic chaos. The sudden rise in water levels catches them unawares, which has resulted in people being washed away, while driving in their two-wheelers and four-wheelers.”
 
Right to Information (RTI) activist Vijay Kumbhar says, “It is written in the Pune Smart City Vision document that sophisticated intelligent systems would be put in place for quick communication where citizens of one corner of the city will instantly come to know of any disaster or information required to be disseminated within minutes, but little has happened so far. So now the onus has come on citizens to do ground work and help themselves in being forewarned about areas of deluge during rains.”
 
 
In the 5th September torrential rains, Victor Sangela and Salim Shaikh, were washed away – in all 26 people died. While Salim’s body was located after a few days later, Victor’s body has yet not been recovered. The WhatsApp messages put up by their families, when they went missing, will give you gooseflesh and will make you realise that you could well be the next victim. 
 
Victor’s family member stated in the WhatsApp message: “Victor Sangale, our cousin has been missing for over 8 hours. He was driving to Wanowrie, when his car was swept away due to floodwaters at the bridge near Ganga Satellite and Raheja Gardens. He was driving a white Tata Tiago with license plate MH 12 RK 8732. If anyone has more information please inform the family members and or the emergency numbers.”
 
 
Salim Shaikh’s brother sent this WhatsApp message: “Saalim Shaikh, my brother has been missing for over 12 hours now. He was driving to Wanowrie when his car was swept away due to floodwaters at the bridge near Ganga Satellite and Raheja Gardens. He was driving Honda Civic car. If anyone has more information or has seen anybody there at the spot then please contact emergency services and also the family members on their mobile numbers.”
 
Vinod Bodhankar, who has done extensive work and campaigning in schools and housing societies of the hazards of plastic waste and how to control it at individual and community levels, stated that “plastic litter blocking pipes, nullahs, river beds, bund gates and roadsides of Pune has further accentuated flooding during rains.” 
 
He said that controlling plastic litter can play a big role in controlling flooding and hence, every citizen should get involved in collecting plastic trash in a bag and giving it to organisations like his which pay to give collected plastic trash for proper reuse and recycle.
 
The immediate way forward to taking this issue forward is to share the presentations made by Mr Yadvadkar and Mr Bodhankar with friends, housing society members, community groups, educational institutions and social organisations, so that citizens know the intensity of the alarming situation. Also, to collect data of which roads and chowks to avoid during heavy rains so that citizens are forewarned. This information would be shared through social media. Each one in the audience was requested to make individual efforts to put pressure on the PMC by writing an email to the municipal commissioner demanding action.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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    COMMENTS

    Ranbir Lamba

    5 days ago

    Carry on drive to check who gave sanctions to such dangerous projects. Punish them heavily+ Recover loss + pack them
    Lesson to all for further too.

    Rajasthan RTI activist dies in police custody
    A Right to Information (RTI) activist has allegedly died in police custody in Rajasthan's Barmer after which the district's Superintendent of Police (SP) took disciplinary action against eight of the station's staffers.
     
    SP Sharad Chowdhary said: "Three people including the RTI activist Jagdish Golia were brought to the Pachpadra police station on Sunday following a complaint received against them for indulging in a fight. All three of them were cousins and the fight broke out due to some land dispute."
     
    While the activist's cousins were granted bail after being produced before a tehsildar, Golia's health deteriorated when he was to be produced before the former. 
     
    He was immediately rushed to the Nahata Hospital where he was declared brought dead.
     
    Further investigation is on in the case, Chowdhary added.
     
    An FIR has been registered against the police staff which also includes a Station House Officer (SHO).
     
    Golia's post-mortem will be conducted in the presence of the District Magistrate and the Judicial Magistrate.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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    COMMENTS

    P M Ravindran

    1 day ago

    Sorry the earlier comment was wrongly posted here as something went wrong when the page was refreshed.

    P M Ravindran

    1 day ago

    The following facts, about the ICs (both commissions and commissioners) are placed on record:
    -The ICs haven't themselves complied with the mandate of Sec 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act.
    - The ICs do not take up cases (complaints/2nd appeals) on FIFO basis. The Act provides for only information related to life and liberty to be provided on priority. Thus only complaints/appeals related to these can be allowed to be taken up on priority.
    -They do not follow the mandate of the Sec 20 correctly. To elucidate, this section mandates that the PIO be given an opportunity to being heard before imposing the mandatory penalty. It implies that the need to impose the penalty should have been established (it is possible based on the records submitted with the appeal) before calling for hearing. It also implies that it is not merely calling for 'reports' or for a hearing but a actually a show cause notice for not imposing penalty with the option of submitting the reasons in a written form with or without personal hearing.
    - The response to this show cause notice is the information that has to be communicated to the appellant for his information and counter arguments.
    -The 2nd appeal is complete in itself, if the application, reply by the PIO, 1st appeal and the reply by the FAA are annexed to it. Hence it is easy for the IC to sift what all information sought had been provided and denied.
    -It is only in the case of information denied or provided with delay, that the IC has to seek the explanation from the PIO seeking the valid reasons for denying/delaying them. It implies that the notice from the IC is specific about this information that had been denied/delayed.
    -The mandate of Sec 20 is to penalise even for delay beyond 30 days and there is no choice with the IC. There are many cases when even after ordering the PIOs to provide information the ICs fail to impose the penalty which would by them be the maximum of Rs 25000/-.
    -The ICs have been treacherously not following this procedure and even accepting illegal reasons like the information is not available (without giving any legally valid reason) or simply that the applicant has been provided an opportunity to check files and collect it from their office.
    - The violations by the ICs are so blatant that they can be easily prosecuted under Sec 219 of the IPC.

    But then our courts are not the ideal role models for dispensation of justice, are they? And so the charade goes on and on...

    GLN Prasad

    1 week ago

    When the fight in between cousins is on land dispute, mentioning the occupation (?) RTI Activist, is not good journalism.

    RTI Amendment 2019 notwithstanding; RTI remains a powerful tool for citizen empowerment
    If more and more citizens conduct inspection of files under Section 4 in the offices of the public authorities, file RTI applications under Section 6 and if activists campaign for Jan Soochna (public information) portals in every State, like the one recently launched in Rajasthan where most suo motu disclosures under Section 4 have been uploaded, then the mischievous amendments made to the RTI Act recently, would be nullified. 
     
    These expert views were made on the RTI event held last Friday in The Poona Club, Pune, to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the RTI Act (which falls on 12th Oct), by the Pune RTI Cell of Moneylife Foundation. 
     
    A panel of eminent RTI activists headed by Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, included Qaneez Sukhrani, Vijay Kumbhar, Vivek Velankar and Sarang Yadwadkar. The topic of discussion “How to use RTI: Experts guide you” revolved around making participants aware of the Act, guiding and encouraging them on how to use it for their day-to-day issues. 
     
     
    Shailesh Gandhi stated that, “despite the government’s amendments made in the RTI Act recently, it still remains one of the most powerful Acts in the world and continues to be the best tool for information access for any citizen. Besides, getting information is also our constitutional right under Article (19) of the Constitution of India.’’
     
    Vivek Velankar, who has persistently procured information under RTI, for toll charges on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway and for various issues in the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU),  urged the audience to “actively use Section 4 which allows you to conduct inspection of files. If you file a RTI application under Section 6, the Public Information Officer has a period of 30 days to reply to you, whereas; if you go to the office of the relevant public authority to inspect files, you can immediately get the information you want, by going through the files and requesting Photostat copies there and then. Also, instead of asking for any specific pages, ask for the photocopy of the entire file which contains documents relating to the subject. After that, go through them at your leisure and besides finding the information you have sought, you may have a surprise on additional details you may get on the issue.’’
     
     
    Qaneez Sukhrani, who has taken up the issues of illegal hoardings in Pune city and illegal induction of  local politicians’ cronies in citizen committees of the Pune Municipal Corporation and sidelined NGOs whose representation is mandatory, stated that, “we should not use RTI for time pass but to solve your problem or pursue a social issue to the logical end. It is not enough to file RTI applications under Section 6; I ensure I hand over my application and make good talk with the Public Information Officer (PIO) who is usually unwilling to part with information. I tell him that he should, for a moment, forget that he is on the other side, and think of himself as a citizen of the country, who has the right to get information. Follow up to your RTI application is very necessary, for which you should continuously hound the PIO. ’’
     
    Vijay Kumbhar, who was the first RTI activist in the country to conduct inspection of files under Section 4, in the Pune Municipal Corporation way back in 2006 and gives guidance to hundreds of citizens through his RTI Katta at a public garden, stated that, “citizens would not have to file RTI applications under Section 6 if public authorities upload information on their website, which is mandatory under Section 4. The Jan Soochna portal recently launched by the Rajasthan government is historic in terms of citizen access to information. Information on 23 state government schemes has been uploaded in great detail. If you click on the MNERGA scheme, you will get a list of beneficiaries, payments made to them, in every taluka of the state. We should all moot for a similar portal by all the state governments so that even the PIOs will not be burdened with RTI applications which they often crib about”
     
     
    Sarang Yadwadkar, meticulously campaigns against encroachment on river banks in Pune and has gathered scandalising information under RTI regarding tampering of the red and blue line demarcation of the Panchganga River in the Kolhapur Development Plan, due to pressure of the builder lobby, which resulted in horrible floods recently. He stated that, “I’ve been using RTI along with Velankar for river bed encroachments in Pune and have gone to National Green Tribunal, based on the vital information I got under RTI. Similarly, RTI information showed that 1250 acres of land in Kolhapur’s river banks were converted to residential and commercial zones resulting in heavy floods that saw large scale destruction. Citizens can no more ignore this issue and should use RTI to find out if they are buying property in such controversial zones.’’
     
     
    The panelists also discussed the contentious issue of the RTI Act being tarnished for blackmailing. All of them stated unanimously that if information is uploaded in the public domain, there would be no question of any blackmail and besides if the officer can get blackmailed, it implies that he has done something wrong, which shows up in the documents. So, although uploading of files is mandatory under the RTI Act and can ensure transparency, there has been reluctance, ever since the RTI Act was implemented in 2005 and no prizes for guessing, the reasons why.
     
    The event concluded with a series of questions from the enthusiastic audience. This included a motley group of Rotary Club members and a couple of academics. The subjects included real estate, the recent Amendments, housing society problems and so on. Happy and contented with the session, some of them urged Moneylife to hold RTI programmes, regularly.
     
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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    COMMENTS

    GLN Prasad

    2 weeks ago

    There may be hundreds of success stories but there are still lakhs of unsuccessful applicants and even public authorities are smart, they know as to who is seeking information, what should only be given, to whom only it should be given. Unless the penalties are made mandatory, only those who can prevail with their expertise can only benefit and a common man is always the loser.

    M Haridas

    2 weeks ago

    What i find missing is an honest effort to force the govt at the States and at the Centre to prepare a wikipedia or a moving list of RTI queries already answered or pending disposal. I find the replication of a query is a waste of time.

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