1) GAIN A BIRDS-EYE-VIEW OF THE PUBLIC SPACES IN YOUR MUNICIPAL WARD: File an RTI application asking your ward office for a list of plots reserved for Garden, Play Ground (PG), Recreation Ground (RG), and any other reservations for setting up public utilities such as police stations, hospitals, schools etc. Ask for the following details in this list:
(i) Postal address, CT Survey number and nearby landmarks
(ii) Area of each plot in square metres
(iii) Whether it is available for adoption by a private agency
(iv) Whether it has already been adopted
(v) If so, then copy of adoption agreement between municipal corporation and adopting agency, commencement and ending date of adoption agreement, and details of pre-existing structures on each plot before commencement of this agreement
(vi) After the adopting agency has developed the play ground or recreation ground, is it authorized to collect entrance fee from the public? What is the maximum amount allowable?
(vii) Alternatively, ask for copy of the rules and guidelines applicable to adoption of RG/PG plots
2) GAIN THOROUGH KNOWLEDGE OF THE VACANT PLOTS IN YOUR LOCALITY. Ask for “layout plan” of your area or locality. These will contain details of adjoining plots and civic structures like roads and nallahs, and help you to understand if large existing structures (such as shops, garages, eateries, sheds, shanties etc.) are represented in the layout plan. This will tell you whether the municipal corporation legally recognizes each of them.
3) UNDERSTAND THE PLOT DIMENSIONS AND THE PLANNED ACCESS ROADS INTO THE PLOT. To know the length, breadth, shape and proposed exit-entry points of the plot, ask for Development Plan (DP) of that locality from the public information officer (PIO) of Municipal Commissioner‘s office. (Your RTI application will probably be redirected to the office of Chief Engineer of Development Planning, but it may be a good idea to “start at the top”.) After getting a copy of DP, you can take actual measurements and compare the actual length and breadth of the reserved plots with those marked in DP. This will also tell you which structures are definitely unauthorized, as only authorized structures and plots will be visible in the DP.
4) ASCERTAIN OWNERSHIP OR TERMS OF LEASE. If the legal ownership of a plot is doubtful, file an RTI application to Municipal Commissioner’s office asking for 7-12 Extract (Saat-baara Utaara) and 6-12 Extract (Search Report). 7-12 Extract will tell you about the present ownership of a plot of land, and 6-12 Extract will tell you about the history of the plot i.e. who were the earlier owners, whether the land was under long-lease from the government, duration and expiry-dates of lease agreements etc.
5) FIND OUT WHETHER ONGOING CONSTRUCTION ACTIVITY IS AUTHORIZED. If illegal construction seems to be in progress on a given plot, ask PIO of Municipal Commissioner’s office for copies of approved site plan and Commencement Certificate. (Your RTI application is likely to be forwarded to Building Proposal Dept.) Other departments which are supposed to have this site plan are Water Dept, Sewage and Fire Brigade, as their NOC is required before Completion Certificate and Occupation Certificate can be awarded to the building project.
6) IF A RESERVED PLOT IS OCCUPIED PARTIALLY OR FULLY BY ILLEGAL STRUCTURES, slums and shanties, file RTI application asking for the following:
(i) Project Affected People (PAP) orders issued by the municipal corporation in respect of the encroached plot
(ii) Records and lists with Slum Rehabilitation Authority / MHADA stating which structures (belonging to whom) were built before 1995, before 2000, 2005 and afterwards
(iii) Lines of demarcation of the reserved plot (i.e. its shape and dimensions) which these structures are partially or fully occupying, as per the records of the municipal corporation
(iv) Was a wall or barbed-wire fence, or any other mark of demarcation, put up by the municipal corporation? What is the description of such demarcation, and when was it put up? How much did it cost? (This description can be used to file get an FIR lodged, as removal of a structure built by a civic authority is a criminal offence. FIR will have to be lodged even if the culprit is not currently known; Identifying culprits then becomes the job of the police.)
7) TO INDICATE A SPECIFIC PLOT OF LAND WHILE RAISING AN RTI QUERY, YOU HAVE THE FOLLOWING ALTERNATIVES:
(i) It is best to cite the CT Survey number if you know it. If you don’t, try to get that identification number by visiting the local municipal authorities, so that your RTI application becomes more foolproof and difficult to evade. Be aware that a single plot of land may consist of more than one CTS number.
(ii) If the plot is under construction, one may point to it through its Building Permission (BP) number, which is the file number in the Building Proposal department.
(iii) If it is not possible to quote these identification numbers, identify the plot by writing that it is situated between plots of such-and-such CTS numbers, such-and-such cooperative housing societies, adjacent to ABC road, and near lamp-post number XYZ. A little-known fact is that in cities like Mumbai, each lamp post has a distinctive number which the municipal corporation uses for reference of location in case of complaints etc.
IF THERE ARE GLARING DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN ACTUAL GROUND REALITIES and the plot as shown in the municipal records, layout plans, DP maps etc., then the municipality will usually avoid giving out exact details, dimensions of plots, lines of demarcation etc. Strenuous efforts by RTI applicants to make the municipal corporation acknowledge such discrepancies through RTI appeals are usually futile. Instead of breaking your head with appellate authorities, you may note down all the discrepancies in a detailed complaint to the municipal ward office, with copies to Municipal Commissioner’s office and the state government’s Urban Development department. Then follow up such complaints with RTI applications demanding to know what action was taken on the complaint. Ask for copies of all correspondence pursuing the complaint, its investigation and administrative action.
NOTES & SUGGESTIONS:
a) DON’T ASK FOR ALL THESE THINGS IN A SINGLE RTI APPLICATION. Keep application small by restricting it to 4-5 questions, and no sub-questions. If you have many questions, divide them between 4-5 RTI applications, and make each RTI application easy to respond to. Try to get information with minimum fuss; avoid scaring the PIO with 25 questions and 100 sub-questions!
b) These tips are thanks to generous sharing of experiences and RTI data by my fellow activists Raja John Bunch (who gave the basic framework and most inputs), G R Vora and Sherley Singh. You are urged to share your experiences and insights, and help me add to this list.
c) This checklist does not look at the problems of encroachment of roads and footpaths by shops, hawkers, parked vehicles etc. Please share your insights and experiences on these also.