Priyanka Kakodkar

MUMBAI: A information officer, who was abruptly transferred two weeks after providing RTI documents to TOI last year on land allotment to Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurveda Ltd, has quit the Maharashtra Airport Development Company (MADC).
Marketing manager Atul Thakare had been transferred from Nagpur to Mumbai in March last year in a sudden move that raised questions about whether it was a punitive measure. After waiting for a year and a half in the hope of being sent back to Nagpur, the frustrated official chose to quit, sources said. Thakare, whose last day at MADC was August 31, did not comment. Soon after his transfer last year, he had told TOI: “The erstwhile MD had assured me of a promotion for my work but I got a sudden transfer instead.”

MADC officials claimed his resignation had nothing to do with the transfer or the RTI information. “He got a job with better prospects. He asked for a no objection certificate before resigning, which we provided,” said MADC managing director Suresh Kakani.

But RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu, convenor of the Mahiti Adhikar Manch, wasn’t convinced. “Transfers are becoming a tool to exercise control on information officers. This serves to muzzle the RTI Act which is aimed at boosting transparency in the government,” he said.

On March 8, 2017, TOI had reported on the shunting of IAS officer Bijay Kumar shortly after he questioned the basis of the 75% discount given on land eventually awarded to Patanjali. The story was written on the basis of RTI documents on the allotment process of the land which falls within the Mihan area in Nagpur and belongs to MADC. The RTI documents were received eight months after sending the application, that too only after appeals were pursued all the way up to the then Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra, Ratnakar Gaekwad. He had summoned then MADC chief Vishwas Patil to appear in person for a hearing.

TOI finally received the documents on March 3, 2017, the day of the hearing. On March 15, two public information officers (PIO) involved in organizing the documents were transferred.

Thakare, who was then the PIO of MADC Nagpur branch, was transferred to Mumbai, and marketing manager Sameer Gokhale, PIO in Mumbai, was sent to Nagpur. While Thakare had served in his post for four years, Gokhale was transferred just four months after his appointment as marketing manager. The issue of the transfers had come up in the state assembly session in Nagpur in December 2017. In response to questions, the government had said the transfers were for administrative reasons and that neither official had handled the Patanjali RTI.

However, among the RTI documents received by TOI on March 3, 2017, was a letter written by then MADC chief Vishwas Patil, saying he wouldn’t be able to attend the hearing but, “I would be sending Atul Thakare, marketing manager of MADC, for the hearing with all the documents”. By the time he resigned, Thakare was functioning as First Appellate Authority under the RTI Act