Thursday, June 17, 2010

How to use RTI to protect open public spaces from encroachment

Sometimes, the alarm bells in our heads start ringing when we see a sudden surge of activities in a plot that has lain vacant for years and decades….. suspicious activities such as:
  • Trees start getting chopped on an open plot for no apparent reason.
  • Poor people materialize from nowhere and start living on the edges of a public maidan, and then their numbers seem to rise every few days. At first they live in flimsy makeshift tents made of old sarees, and then they start squatting inside tiny brick-and-tin structures.
  • A public garden or vacant lot is suddenly the target of a construction crew. Construction material such as bricks, steel rods etc. start getting stacked around it. Unusually rapid construction activity is initiated on a Friday evening, with a completion target of Monday morning before the Municipal offices open.
  • Buildings are erected rapidly in a vacant lot without first laying a firm foundation, or RCC framework.
  • RCC structures are being constructed behind a frontage of shacks and slums, so that one cannot ordinarily see it happening.
  • Garage and Chinese kitchens operating from makeshift sheds by the side of a public maidan at first start washing cars and utensils inside the maidan, and then gradually occupy it by stages, extending their makeshift sheds and making them increasingly pucca structures over some months or years.
  • A political party’s flags and symbols are aggressively planted in a vacant plot, and a few weeks later, a party office springs up overnight.
  • A small temple or mosque suddenly goes into expansion mode and occupies nearby lands.
  • A trust or association adopts a Recreation Ground or Play Ground (RG/PG) under the municipality’s scheme. It puts up a clubhouse or gymkhana over, say, 30% of the plot, but, instead of making the remaining 70% available to the public (as per the terms of the agreement) for recreational activities, they start minting money by renting out the ground for weddings etc. Sometimes, they convert the surrounding roads into their private car-parking lot by posting uniformed watchmen, placing potted plants on the road etc. These watchmen may even restrict access to motorists and pedestrians.
Does all of this sound familiar? These are a few signs of encroachment which trigger alert citizens to ask the municipal authorities some uncomfortable questions. Timely RTI applications and prompt complaints to the local ward officer, local police station and also the municipal commissioner can prevent daylight robbery of open spaces that rightfully belong to all of us.

What are the key documents that one should ask for under Right to Information to expose such rackets? Download this checklist of “What to ask for under RTI to prevent encroachment of Open Spaces”:

When faced with persistent and methodical RTI queries and complaints, it is observed that municipal corporations often -- though not always -- respond by demolishing illegal structures like garages and sheds within some weeks. When challenged, illegal constructions have been known to come to an abrupt halt, and encroached territories have been vacated overnight, bearing testimony to the power of the common citizen to make a difference.

Article by:
Krishnaraj Rao

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