At a time when many members of the local selfgovernment bodies across the state are facing the threat of disqualification for the failure to convene gram sabhas and ward sabhas, the officials of the Corporation are playing safe by not divulging the information under the RTI Act. As per the Panchayati Raj Act and Municipality Act, the members of the local bodies can be disqualified if the grama sabhas are not convened within the time limit. The State Election Commission, which has the right to disqualify the Local Self- Government Department (LSGD) members for the violation of the rules, has already disqualified 39 members across the state. Interestingly, the first official to be suspended in the state for withholding information under the RTI Act, is from Kochi Corporation. Kerala Human Rights Defence Forum state general secretary D B Binu pointed out that action could be taken against the members who have violated the rules based on the documents procured as per the RTI.
“By not divulging the details, the Corporation officials seem to be in a fool’s paradise, believing that it could prevent the ensuing actions after the documents are out through the RTI,” he said.
He added that the move of the Corporation is an absolute defiance of law. “The authorities do not have any right to withhold a public document,” he added. The grama sabhas were set up to involve the direct participation of the people in the democracy. To strengthen the grama sabhas, the Panchayati Raj Act was amended in 1999 giving prominence to public participation in the decentralised system. According to the amendment, the grama sabhas should be convened once in three months. State vice-president of RTI Kerala Federation Rasheed, Anappara, who sought the information under the RTI Act, has pointed out a nexus between the corporation officials and the councillors. “The move of the Corporation officials force us to believe that there exists an unholy nexus. They have kept the documents which are to be made public, under the wraps. As per the Act, special ward sabhas have to be convened for the physically challenged. But till date, it has not been done,” he said. Irked by the lack of response, Rasheed has already approached the State Information Commission. “We are planning to organise agitations before the Corporation office if the authorities continue to turn a blind eye towards the issue,” he added. Mayor Tony Chammany said that such an issue has not come to his notice. “I will inquire into the matter at the earliest,” he said.