Mumbai activist takes over fight to get Mahanagar Gas in RTI regimen

Activist Milind Kotak vows to make gas giant follow CIC order

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | September 26, 2013



Eight years after a Mumbai consumer activist sought an answer from the state information commission on why Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL), like other public organizations, not complying with RTI Act, another activist has taken up the issue and is ready to move to the court again.

Milind Kotak, who runs an NGO called Forum for Effective Accountability and Transparency (FEAT) in Mumbai, has now taken up the issue.

Kotak told Governance Now that Kewal Semlani, who had first sought information from MGL, was only seeking that MGL should comply with the RTI Act. He said Semlani was a complainant under Section 18 of the RTI Act and not an appellant under Section 19 of the Act. However, in the final CIC order, instead of showing Semlani as the complainant, he has been erroneously shown as Appellant.

The story so far

Kewal Semlani, aged over 70 years, was the coordinator of NGO Mahadhikar. He had sent an e-mail complaining to the managing director of Mahanagar Gas in December 2005, on why the company was not complying with the RTI Act despite being a public authority. When he did not receive any response till April 2006, he submitted a complaint before Maharashtra state information commission. His complain was transferred from a single bench of CIC to a three member bench headed by the ¬chief central information commissioner who passed the final order.

The order said, “In view of the shareholding pattern and control of MGL that is apparently exercised by the government and the nature of the functions performed by them, it leaves no room for doubt that it is and be declared as a public authority’ within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.” It directed MGL to discharge its duties as ‘public authority’ within one month from the date of receipt of the order.

Challenging the CIC’s order, MGL then filed a writ petition before the Delhi high court (making CIC, respondent number one and Semlani, respondent number two). However, around that time MGL obtained the stay on the CIC order and Semlani passed away.

In its order dated July 16, 2009, the high court made a finding that NGO Mahadhikar  “had moved an application under right to information Act, 2005”. The high court, Kotak says, could have been wrong in its observation possibly due to an earlier error of CIC showing Semlani as an appellant and not a complainant in the CIC’s final order.

Based on this finding, Delhi high court directed that Mahadhikar be made respondent number 3 and told MGL to serve the amended petition on Mahadhikar within 10 days.

When the court bailiff went to serve the amended petition to the Mahadhikar office no one was available to receive it. It is also interesting to note that the advocate representing respondent number 1, i.e. CIC did not bring to the court’s notice that the finding was erroneous. It did not even offer to argue the matter in the absence of Semlani, when the court ordered service of the amended petition.

During its final order on March 23, 2010, Delhi HC held, “the impugned order of the CIC which has been stayed by this court cannot be implemented as there is no one to whom such information is given.” The advocate of CIC was found to be absent in this hearing.

This finding, too, seems to have been effected from the CIC order showing the senior citizen as an appellant instead of complainant in their final order. Based on these findings the court finally held, “In the peculiar circumstances of the case, this court directs that the impugned order of the CIC will not constitute as a precedent on the question whether the MGL is a public authority within the meaning of RTI Act. That question is left open to be decided in an appropriate case”.

Kotak says, “In case these erroneous findings were not made, Delhi high court would have directed the advocate of respondent number one, namely CIC, to argue the matter, which by now would have resulted in an order declaring MGL as a “public authority”.

Kotak has now decided to pursue the matter left incomplete, because of Semlani’s demise and make MGL comply with RTI Act. “We are corroborating all the required papers and are fully prepared for a long fight up to the supreme court,” he says.

Besides launching a mail id - featmgl@gmail.com for receiving citizen complaints against MGL and providing e-mail based guidance, on August 6, 2013, Kotak has also issued a letter to the managing director of MGL requesting him to comply with the RTI Act within seven days.

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