The RTI Union guides citizens in the use of RTI Act, Maharashtra Cooperative Societies (MCS) Act and other laws in dealing with land, building issues and housing society matters. It focuses on Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) i.e. Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai etc. At each meeting, we have experts who share their knowledge with those who have such problems. We also have many citizens from all walks of life, who seek to meet such experts and get guidance for solving their own problems, as well as the problems of society.
At our meeting last Saturday at Dadar, there were 33 participants including Medha Patkar’s colleagues Vivek Pandit and Dinesh Shinde, Kamlakar Shenoy (who is battling against Shivalik builders’ illegalities) and Milind Kotak, who focuses on accountability of police. Others experts — people with experience and knowledge of various domains — included J B Patel, G R Vora, Vasudev Shenoy, Sudhakar Malpe, Mohammed Afzal, Bharat Gandhi and Ramesh Jadhav.
1. NEED TO GET GOVERNMENT CIRCULARS OF RECENT POSITIVE ANNOUNCEMENTS. Maharashtra Government, MCGM, MHADA etc. have several positive announcements concerning efforts to curb various illegalities of builders. However, we have only read about them in the newspapers, and are unable to act upon them or advise citizens, as we do not have the announcements, which would be in the form of Government Resolutions (GRs) and Circulars issued by Municipal Corporation etc. Also, many positive changes are proposed in the new Development Control (DC) Rules. CONCLUSION: We should made efforts to collect all the GRs and circulars.
2. DRAFTING PEOPLE-FRIENDLY REDEVELOPMENT AGREEMENT & SELF-REDEVELOPMENT GUIDE. Jeby Patel and others in the Union have been planning to draft model redevelopment agreements that are “people-friendly”, as against the ones that are currently used, which are biased in favour of the builder. In the course of this discussion, Sulaiman Bhimani, an interior designer (who is battling the illegalities of RNA Builders and MMRDA) talked about the desirability of Self Redevelopment. He said that the housing cooperative society can itself form an association of persons or a company and engage various contractors to redevelop their own society in a hands-on way. Responding to doubts raised by Bharat Gandhi, he said that it was indeed difficult but not impossible. But it was worth it because, firstly, each member of the society can be richer by Rs 30-50 lakhs at least, and secondly, the housing society members would have to bear less financial risks than by entrusting their building to an outside developer, Bhimani argued. CONCLUSION: The overall opinion was in favour of evolving a procedural blueprint to guide those interested in doing self-development. For this, we shall involve the project management consultants and architects with whom we are in touch. We should take up this project on a priority basis.
3. KAMLAKAR SHENOY spoke on the various illegalities committed by Shivalik Enterprises promoter Ramakant Jadhav since the 1990s. He talked about the battles that he was fighting to blow the whistle on these crooked dealings. CONCLUSION: Kamlakar will actively participate in the RTIUnion googlegroup to mentor aggrieved people in taking on unlawful activities of other builders also.
4. VIVEK PANDIT talked briefly about his battle against crooked builders in Powai, especially Niranjan Hiranandani. He also talked about his association with Medha Patkar and her National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM). CONCLUSION: Vivek will actively participate in the RTIUnion googlegroup to guide others in fighting crooked builders. NAPM and RTI Union will cooperate wherever possible to strengthen the hands of citizens.
5. MILIND KOTAK talked about his efforts to compel the police to obey the lawful mandates of their job i.e. to register FIR without delay when cognizable offence is made out. Unwillingness of the police to take action against law-breakers was a major cause of corruption in the country, he stressed. CONCLUSION: Milind will reply to citizens’ queries on RTIUnion googlegroup to give guidance for lodging police complaints etc.
6. NEED FOR GUIDELINES TO STATE PROBLEMS WITHOUT NEEDLESS PERSONAL DETAILS. We faced a major hurdle at the meeting as many people failed to state their problems and frame their questions in a clear way. They could not clearly tell their stories and ask questions within 5-10 minutes given to them. They were unable to highlight the main legal aspects or pressure-points, and kept going on and on with useless personal details e.g. how the sub-police inspector wasted their time, how their society members made insulting comments, ignored them etc. This led to fruitless discussions and also to them being cut short by moderators. CONCLUSION: Activists like Ramesh Jadhav and G R Vora stressed the need to issue guidelines to people for presenting their grievances. So, we shall issue guidelines, which will also be helpful to the general public in analyzing their own grievances and presenting them before public authorities.
7. QUESTIONS ABOUT EFFECTIVENESS OF RTI UNION. In recent weeks, there has been soul-searching about whether we are being effective. The questions being raised are: Are we making a difference, or are we just wasting time and energy in meetings and other activities? Also, is giving advice, law points, practical tips, drafting RTI applications etc. the best way for us to support aggrieved persons? Shouldn’t we get involved hands-on in the problems of individual societies, redevelopment projects etc? At the meeting, D M Lokhandwala raised the point about effectiveness very strongly, by demanding to know how many wrong-doers have been punished due to the RTI Union’s actions. (The one-word answer is: None.) This provoked a lot of discussion. OPINIONS & ANSWERS:
(a) Vasudev Shenoy and others said that our actions should be aimed at creating systemic changes, and not settling personal scores.
(b) Vivek Pandit said that the ‘Paper War’ (i.e. writing letters, RTI applications, complaints etc.) was very important for cleaning up the system.
(c) Some like G R Vora stressed that given our present manpower resources, the best that we could do was enable citizens by advice, guidance and help in drafting complaints, RTI applications etc.
(d) My own opinion is that seeking law-enforcement against corrupt individuals is truly a worthy endeavour, provided those who advocate this approach take ownership of such projects and devote time and energy. Other RTI Union members and other experts will support them, provided these people themselves take the lead.
(e) The RTI Union will support even critics, provided they make efforts to campaign and mobilize support for their own ideas. In short, don’t say, “You should do this.” Also, don’t say, “We all should do this, but please excuse me because I don’t have the time.” Your mantra should be: “I am in the process of doing this thing, so will you please guide me, support me and participate in this?” If you do this, there will be less scope for criticism, and more for cooperation.
8. EXPENSES STATEMENT:
• Booking space at Chabildas School (Sulaiman Bhimani) – Rs 650.
• Tea (G R Vora) — Rs 260
• Farsan (G R Vora) — Rs 270
• TOTAL expenses – Rs 1180
• Balance carried over from collections at previous meeting — Rs 1,790.
• Rs 610 is carried over as SURPLUS carried over for the next meeting (G R Vora).
• We did not solicit contributions, and hence, we did not collect even one rupee.
9. COLLECTING Rs 50 PER MEETING (UNLESS PARTICIPANT CANNOT AFFORD). In future, we are thinking of soliciting contribution of Rs 50 per head (with exemptions to people from slums etc), at the time of signing the attendance register. This will enable us to more-or-less meet the costs of venue, chai-nashta etc.
RTIUNION GOOGLEGROUP is a knowledge-sharing platform for helping people in Mumbai Metropolitan Region in land, building and society matters. To join it and participate in discussions, please email a request to moderator G R Vora at firstname.lastname@example.org, with your brief introduction, address, contact details, name of referrer, area of expertise, details of problems faced due to cooperative, land scam etc. and also your reason for wishing to join.