Saturday, March 04, 2017

Task before new CIC

Daily Excelsior: Srinagar: Saturday, March 04, 2017.
J&K State Information Commission (SIC) has become operational again after remaining in a state of suspended animation for several months. People from different walks of life are  satisfied over the appointment of a retired IAS officer of 1982 batch Khurshid Ganai as State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). After being selected by a panel of selectors headed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti , Governor has formally issued appointment order vide SRO 76 u/s 12 (3) of J&K RTI Act 2009  in favour of Khurshid Ahmad Ganai on 27th Feb 2016. In addition to disposal of several pending cases in the Information Commission, the newly appointed CIC has several challenges which he needs to address. Among these challenges is the issue of voluntary disclosure of Information which is still not being adhered to by majority of the public authorities especially the Government departments.
Violation of Section 4 (1) (b):
Public authorities especially the Government departments of our state continue to violate section 4 (1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009. This section lays emphasis on voluntary disclosure (pro active or suo-moto disclosure)  of information by public authorities.  Under both the State and Central RTI Laws public authorities have been directed to make pro-active disclosure of information within 120 days of the enactment of RTI Act. The existing State RTI law (J&K RTI Act 2009) got enacted on March 20th 2009 , and by June end of year  2009 all the public authorities which includes Government departments, Public sector undertakings  were supposed to digitize all their records so that they could be uploaded on the official websites. Almost eight years have elapsed since then  but majority of the records are yet to be kept available  in public domain ( through websites etc)  which is open violation of  the section 4(1) (b) of State RTI Act. As majority of the Government offices have not digitized the official information, the ultimate sufferers are the ordinary information seekers who intend to get information under Right to Information Act (RTI). The designated Public Information Officers (PIO’s) in order in discourage information seekers are asking information seekers  to pay exorbitant fees on account of xerox charges etc.
Cases studies:
Sajad Hussain Pandit S/O Ali Mohammad Pandit R/O Iskander PoraTehsil Beerwah District Budgam filed an application under J&K RTI Act 2009  before the PIO in the office of Financial Commissioner (FC) Revenue during the month of May 2016. On  June 20th 2016, RTI applicant was called in person by FC Revenue office Srinagar  and was given an official letter No: FC (Adm-RTI) 02/2016 dated 20/6/2016 . The information seeker  was  asked to pay an amount of Three thousand eight hundred sixty six rupees (Rs 3866) for getting information with regard to appointment of Patwaris more than a decade back. The information seeker alleges that there was bungling and favoritism in the said appointment. The FC Revenue office letter reads as :” In continuation to this office letter No FC(Adm-RTI) 02/2016 Dated 31/05/2016 , I am to say that information demanded by you are428 pages out of which 383 pages are of A 4 size which costs Rs 766 and rest pages are large size which got copied from market on large photocopier and costs Rs 3100″. We all area aware that Rs 2 is charged per photocopy for A 4 size and for the bigger size photocopy maximum cost cannot be more than Rs 10 per page. This indicates that for rest 45 pages Information seeker  had to pay Rs 450  only maximum , but he was asked to pay Rs 3100 , plus Rs 766 for photocopying A4 size pages. When the information was received by the information seeker Sajad Hussain Pandit , that was completely misleading and incorrect.  Sajad is not unnecessarily harassing the Govt officials , but he actually wants justice. Pertinent to mention that during the year 2000 the FC office appointed 100 patwaris who were earlier chainmen in Revenue Department attached with Patwaris. Sajad was also appointed as a  Chainman. His name was neither shortlisted for appointment as a Patwari  nor was he informed how the process of selection was done. “I tried to get thisinformation by invoking my right under  RTI. I was made to pay such a huge fees inspite of being an un employed person.  when I opened the parcel , the information was totally misleading and irrelevant ”  said Sajad. Another information seeker was made to pay Rs 2000 as Photostat charges by the office of Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Tangmarg. In-spite of paying this exorbitant fees , information seeker was provided irrelevant and incorrect  information.  Nisar Ahmad Parra who is a resident of village Larkipora , Tehsil Karhama Tangmarg had filed an application under J&K RTI Act 2009 before SDM Tangmarg on 19.5.2016. Parra alleges  that SDM office officials had denied to issue Resident of Backward Area (RBA) certificate  to her divorced sister who lives with him after she got divorced more than 4 years back. RTI applicant Nisar Ahmad Parra had obtained orders of the Deputy Commissioner Baramulla for issuance of RBA certificate  , but he alleges that said order was not implemented by SDM Tangmarg. Then he decided to use RTI so as to know why the order was not implemented ?  In his RTI application information seeker sought  information about the action taken by SDM office on DC’s letter and sought list of RBA beneficiary list of Karhama , Kunzer and Tangmarg tehsils of 2014 and 2015. Instead of providing information seeker the list of persons who were given RBA certificates , the SDM office provided him Xerox copies of around 400 RBA certificates which he never sought , but was forced to pay Rs 2000 as Xerox fees.
Had FC Revenue office  or SDM Tangmarg digitized their record and put the same in public domain , poor information seekers would not have to pay thousands of rupees as Xerox fees for getting all misleading information . The information about RBA beneficiaries has to be made available on official websites of DCs or even SDMs. But this is not at all available on DC office websites . The SDM offices in J&K have no websites at all. CIC Khurshid Ganai was the man behind digitizing Govt record. It was during his tenure as Commissioner /Secretary in General Administration Department (GAD) when GAD started uploading all the officials orders / circulars  on its official website on daily basis. Few years back I sought information under RTI from State Vigilance Organisation (SVO) about list of Govt officials for whom Vigilance Organization has sought sanction for prosecution from Government. The Vigilance did not provide me the names of the officials and instead they provided only the post of which they worked. After few days , I found the whole list on GAD website wherein names , address , and post on which the officials were working was voluntary disclosed.  I am sure newly appointed State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) would focus on voluntary disclosure of information and section 4(1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009 gives him powers to act against the erring public authorities who are violating this important aspect of RTI Act.