Greater Kashmir: Srinagar: Friday, March 03, 2017.
After remaining defunct for almost three months, the institution of RTI has finally been reconstituted. State Information Commission (SIC) which is constituted under the ambit of J&K Right to Information Act 2009 (J&K RTI Act 2009) became completely defunct last year in November when commission’s lone Information Commissioner Nazir Ahmad completed his term in SIC. Nazir Ahmad was appointed as Information Commissioner in November 2011 soon after he retired as Chief Engineer in State Public Works Department (PWD). Before Nazir Ahmad’s term came to an end in November 2016 , G R Sufi completed his 5 year tenure as State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) in February 2016. Sufi an alumnus of Aligrah Muslim University (AMU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is 1977 batch Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer who served on very import posts in Central Income Tax Department. One more Information Commissioner Dr S K Sharma completed his term in Information Commission around October 2015. Dr Sharma before his appointment as Information Commissioner headed Law faculty in Jammu University. There is a provision of two Information Commissioners and one Chief Information Commissioner under J&K RTI Act 2009. Irony is that from last several months not a single political party raised voice over the issue of defunct Information Commission. Except Independent legislator from Langate Engineer Rashid no one even questioned the Government on this issue during recent session of state legislature. After the budget session of state legislature came to an end, I was under this impression that State Information Commission (SIC) will not all get reconstituted as all the MLAs, MLCs were tight lipped over non implementation of Right to Information (RTI) and toothless SIC. We finally had a meeting with Chief Minister on Jan 23rd who assured us to constitute SIC without any further delay.
What is State Information Commission (SIC)
Under the provision of J&K RTI Act 2009 there is an important provision for constitution of State Information Commission (SIC). In absence of SIC, J&K RTI Act 2009 cannot be implemented at all because SIC is a quasi-judicial authority which takes the erring officials (PIOs) to task especially at a time when they deny / provide incomplete / misleading information under RTI Act to citizens. J&K State Information Commission (SIC) has powers :
1. To direct the Public Authority to provide the information
2. To make sure information seeker conducts inspection of documents and records if needed
3. To take action against the designated Public Information Officers (PIOs) by even penalizing them for withholding information without any reason.
4. To make pro active disclosure of information through official websites & other means.
Challenges before new CIC :
Newly appointed State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Khurshid Ahmad Ganai has lots of challenges before him. First of all he has to dispose off dozens of pending appeals and complaints. In addition to it he needs to ensure proper implementation of J&K RTI Act 2009. Almost 8 years have passed since J&K RTI Act 2009 got enacted , but Govt officials especially designated PIOs have little knowledge of RTI Act. Like Mr G R Sufi, CIC Mr Khurshid Ganai will have to direct the Government to conduct workshops for Public Information Officers (PIOs) and First Appellate Authorities (FAA). He has to ensure digitization of Government record & voluntary disclosure of information as mandated under section 4 (1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009.
Khurshid Ahmad Ganai, an IAS officer of 1982 batch retired as Financial Commissioner to Government last year. He could not be elevated as State Chief Secretary which in-fact is dream of every IAS officer before he or she gets retired. Now after being appointed as State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), the rank and status of Mr Ganai is higher than a Chief Secretary of state. Pertinently J&K RTI Act 2009 clearly says that post of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) is equivalent to Election Commissioner of India and the post of Information Commissioner is same as that of a State Chief Secretary. Khurshid Ganai has a sound knowledge of RTI as he played pivotal role in drafting of J&K RTI Amendment Act of 2008 while he was administrative Secretary in State General Administration Department (GAD) way back in 2008. The said law was repealed after enactment of J&K RTI Act 2009. We have closely worked with Khurshid sahib during 2007-2008. By selecting him for the post of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) selection committee headed by Chief Minister has done justice to the State RTI Act. I must applaud leader of opposition Omar Abdullah as well for giving his consent to Mr Ganai’s appointment. Selection committee must now search for two other Information Commissioners also which will make SIC fully operational once again.