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July 2006
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Issues

Our Right to Question
By Noor Mohamed


Using the Right to Information Act, (RTI), I questioned the Karnataka Wakf Board, how it has permitted sale of liquor in Hotel Windsor Manor in Bangalore?


The Wakf Board should not receive any rents from them as the income from prohibited things like alcohol is illegal.


To make Right to Information Act successful and bring awareness in rural areas regarding RTI Act, a national campaign is being launched in July using the medium of newspapers and television.


As a prelude to the campaign, let us take a look at some case stories from Mysore. Yasmene Khanum even after making 4 applications to MUDA for a site under sports category was denied a site, even though it was common knowledge that persons who applied for site for first time in general category had got a site. A reluctant MUDA finally gave the list of allotments made earlier and their reluctance was understandable, as they had allotted sites indiscriminately. “Along with me, there were other gold medalists who had applied for a site and had not got a site whereas those who had just participated in games, (I wonder in what capacity) got sites and as many as 50 sites had been allotted to participants and not to winners. Another sports person who deserves a site more than me is Asma Khanum who represented our country in Seoul Games and Winner of the German Gold Badge. And we both have more than a “century of medals” and between us we have won 100 gold medals. Perhaps this is a disqualification,” says Yasmene.


“In reply to my RTI letter, the MUDA PIO says there is no priority number allotted to sports persons, so a sport person has to keep on applying and since sites are given to participants only we can never hope to get a site here”, she adds.


Take the case of discrimination in relief to coffee growers by the Coffee Board. Enquiries by me under RTI Act revealed that the Coffee Board which has to look after all growers equally, did not. Only those coffee growers who had borrowed from the Coffee Board had their entire loans written off, both principal plus interest whereas the Coffee Board did not recommend to the Centre about writing off loans of other defaulting borrowers from Nationalised banks and Co-operative banks. This Act, is highly discriminating and when I asked the Coffee Board why they discriminated between two borrowers when the Constitution does not permit this, the answer was more shocking… they said it is a policy matter. So to discriminate is its admitted policy.


Further, the Coffee Board which was very promptly complying with the RTI Act, suddenly changed their tune when I posed a more difficult question. They said the chairman has gone on a foreign tour and the financial directors were on leave, to my question as to why coffee growers were not paid interest for making late payments, as much as 4 years late after pooling coffee which was their monopoly. So now that I am contemplating legal action, coffee growers in distress can look forward to get over their woes.


Selling Liquor in Wakf property managed by Wakf Board.


How has the Wakf Board permitted sale of liquor in Hotel Windsor Manor in Bangalore, and how a multi-national company like ITC has bent the rules and are successfully carrying out sale of liquor, not being concerned in the least about religious practices of Mus-lims.


Wakf property is mainly to benefit the poor, widows, orph-ans and children and the earning should be legal. So I asked the PIO of Wakf Board if it is legal to sell alcohol in Wakf property and if Wakf premises can be let out to sell alcohol? The PIO ignored the question. On further appeals, the CEO of the Karnataka Wakf Board asked me to name the properties and he would take action to this effect.


There are no ifs and buts, the law prohibits clearly sale of liquor in temples, mosques, churches and a property registered with the Wakf Board.


So I request the minister in charge of Wakf to immediately cancel the agreement of lease with Sheraton Manor and prohibit the Wakf Board from receiving any rents from them as the income from prohibited things like alcohol is also illegal.


(The writer is based in Mysore and is the RTI Convenor)