Saturday, April 08, 2017

CIC’s June 30th deadline on Pro Active Disclosure : Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Greater Kashmir: Srinagar: Saturday, April 08, 2017.
While assisting people in filing applications under Right to Information Act (RTI) in rural areas , we have observed that people usually seek information about beneficiary list of rural housing scheme Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) which has now been renamed as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY) by  Modi lead BJP Government. People across India and in particular J&K state have been complaining about mass irregularities in identification of  IAY or PMAY beneficiaries. In-fact we exposed such irregularities several times in past wherein well to do families having better housing facilities where benefitted under IAY scheme. In 2011 a village head (Sarpanch) had swindled the entire money meant for 27 homeless people of his village in Budgam district and the money @ Rs 58,500 per household  was distributed among his own kiths and kins. But the power of RTI made him to repay part of the amount into Govt chest , but till date no legal proceedings were initiated against him in-spite of the fact that matter came into notice of State Vigilance Organisation also. Similarly people invoke RTI to seek information about old age pension , minor developmental  works as well. Unless some well educated people or  activists follow these cases , the information is either withheld by the respective Government  departments or they provide misleading information to these aggrieved people.
Why to file an RTI application ?
Why shall a poor villager have to file an application under RTI Act to get  information about the beneficiary list of rural housing scheme (IAY, PMAY) of his village ? Why shall a poor and homeless person living in some town of J&K  have to seek information from a local Municipal Committee about the families who were provided financial assistance of Rs 1.50 lakh per household  under Integrated Housing & Slum Development Programme (IHSDP) to construct a one room house  ? Why shall a physically challenged person have to file RTI application to get the details of his monthly stipend ? All this information  should be pro actively available on the official websites of District Administration and respective Directorates of the departments who control these organizations.
Section 4 (1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009 as well as Central RTI Act 2005 lays special emphasis on proactive disclosure . The RTI law says that within 120 days of enactment of RTI Act , the information should be proactively made available on websites , notice boards , newspapers , booklets etc. Jammu & Kashmir  RTI Act was enacted on March 20th 2009 and the Government should have made proactive  disclosures by the end of July 2009, but  even till date the 80 -85  %  of the Government controlled organizations   haven’t adhered to this legal guideline which is a clear violation of J&K RTI Act 2009. Once the list of IAY or PMAY is prepared same should be available on website of the concerned Deputy Commissioner of the district. Information about the works executed under NREGA or beneficiaries of timber provided by State Forest Corporation (SFC) should be also be available on the official District websites.
June 30th deadline by CIC :
Recently J&K’s Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Khurshid Ahmad Ganai  in order to enforce  the provision of proactive disclosure of information under J&K RTI Act 2009  issued a notice directing all the Public Authorities  to take necessary steps to make voluntary disclosure of information through various means especially through their respective official websites by or before June 30th.  The State Information Commission (SIC)  vide its official notification No : SIC /J/15/2009 -11 /148-80 Dated 17.3.2017  directed the public authorities  to make proactive  disclosure of information under section 4 of State RTI Act  by of before June 30th or face action.
The notification reads as :
“Whereas,  it has come to the notice of State Information Commission that large number of Public Authorities in the state have not made suo moto disclosure of information in terms of section 4 and  have also not taken various steps mentioned therein for the same purpose. Now therefore in exercise of powers conferred under section 22 (5) of J&K RTI Act 2009 , the State Information Commission makes the recommendation to all such Public Authorities in state to take necessary steps so as to conform to all the provisions of section 4. The State Information Commission also recommends that action / actions may be taken and completed by or before 30th of June 2017 to achieve such conformity “
Conclusion :
The CIC’s direction to enforce the provision of voluntary disclosure of information under section 4 (1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009 by June 30th 2017 is indeed a welcome step. CIC’s during his speech at an RTI workshop recently  reiterated his commitment on enforcing voluntary disclosure of information.  We hope that by June end majority of the Government offices in Jammu & Kashmir will digitize their official record and the same would be uploaded on the official websites.  This order is not at all meant to harass Government functionaries but in-fact this will make Government more  transparent ,  accountable and above all filing of RTI applications would get minimized.