Senior IAS officer has sought ‘penal action’ under Section 20 of RTI Act.
The Haryana State Information Commission (SIC) has issued a notice, asking the office of Chief Secretary (Political Department), and the Town and Country Planning Department (TCPD), to give their comments on the rejoinders filed by senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka on the matter of an appeal under the Right to Information Act, in which he has sought initiation of “penal action” under Section 20 of the Act.
The matter pertains to the seeking of information relating to the Justice S.N. Dhingra Inquiry Commission set up in May 2015 to the probe granting of Change of Land Use (CLU) licences in villages in Gurgaon during the rule of the Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress government, including that between Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality and real estate developer DLF Universal Limited. The one-man Commission submitted its report to the State government on August 31, 2016.
Mr. Khemka, Principal Secretary, Archaeological Department, Haryana, had in September 2020 approached the SIC with an appeal, complaining that complete information had not been not furnished by the respondents — the State Public Information Officer; the office of the Chief Secretary, Haryana (Political Department); and the office of the Director, Town and Country Planning Department, with regard to his application under the RTI Act.
Mr. Khemka said he had sought five-point information, including, (1) the total amount paid to Tushar Mehta, advocate, presently Solicitor General of India, in the defense of CWP No.24139 of 2016 titled as “Bhupinder Singh Hooda Vs. State of Haryana and others” in the Punjab and Haryana High Court; (2) total expenses incurred on the Justice S.N. Dhingra Inquiry Commission; (3) total remuneration paid to Justice S.N. Dhingra (retired); (4) list of other facilities provided to the Inquiry Commission; and (5) action taken by the State or the Central government on the report submitted by Justice S.N. Dhingra. Mr. Khemka in his appeal submitted that complete information against points 1, 3 and 5 of his application were not furnished.
Mr. Khemka came to limelight after he cancelled the mutation of a land deal between Mr.Vadra’s company and DLF.
On October 27, 2020, the SIC disposed the appeal, directing the respondents to furnish specific permissible information as available on the records of the public authority for points 1, 3 and 5 of the RTI application within 15 days of receipt of the order, “in the interest of justice, transparency, accountability and good governance”.
According to Mr. Khemka, the office of Town and Country Planning on December 15 informed him that, as per office records, no amount has been paid to Justice S. N. Dhingra. After this, on December 24, Mr. Khemka wrote to the SIC, pointing out that, “As per the terms and conditions of his appointment issued by an order dated 28.08.2015 of the Chief Secretary (in political branch), Justice S.N. Dhingra was entitled to a consolidated monthly sum equivalent to the Chairman of the Competition Commission of India and other facilities.”
“This is a deliberate denial of information to cover up the huge waste of public money in appointing the Inquiry Commission. The Commission (SIC) is requested to initiate penal action u/s 20 of the RTI Act and ask the Government through the Chief Secretary to supply the information sought,” wrote Mr. Khemka.
Following Mr. Khemka’s rejoinder, the SIC has directed both the respondents to give their comments by January 15, 2021, failing which action as per law shall be initiated.