Wednesday, April 19, 2017

RTI Act abused

Daily Excelsior: Srinagar: Wednesday, April 19, 2017.
There are some misconceptions about the RTI Act of 2009 which is made applicable to the J&K State as well. Some people are under the impression that since the citizens of the State are given the Right to Information therefore information asked from any department will be conveyed to the seeker of information. That is simplistic interpretation of the Act an ordinary people go by that concept.
Most of us are not well informed on what the Section 4 of the RTI Act stipulates. The section, put in simple words, imposes responsibility on all departments of the Government, public authorities and various State Commissions to install their respective websites and post suo moto information on these websites as part of Right to Information. The Section in question lays down various obligations of the Public Authority for suo-moto disclosure of information pertaining to it particularly the functions and duties, the powers and duties of its officers, the procedure followed in the decision making process including channels of supervision and accountability, the norms set-forth by it for discharge of functions, rules/regulations, instructions and manuals being followed by it for discharging its functions etc. This explains that the entire administrative, judicial and legislative structure is obliged to observe the Act in letter and in spirit and following the concept of transparency, let the people know fullest possible information on the functioning of the departments. This is a very dependable means of bringing about close association between the public and the governing mechanism in the State.
However, we regret to say that the spirit of the Act is wantonly bruised and mauled because there is hardly a department of the Government, a public authority, a formal organization of the Government or its institution that has strictly followed the instructions contained in Section 4 of the Act. In other words, it is to say with sadness that none of these organizations numbering about 70 has posted suo moto information on its website. It is so sad that not to speak of government departments even prestigious institutions like State Accountability Commission (SAC) and State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) have been violating provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act, 2009 relating to suo-moto disclosure of information pertaining to them. Astonishingly, State Accountability Commission is also defaulting while as State High Court has posted incomplete information on its website. What to talk of making suo-moto disclosure of information the State Human Rights Commission doesn’t have its own website. Even the offices of Divisional Commissioners and that of several Deputy Commissioners have not strictly adhered to Section 4 of the Act and their websites are lacking requisite details. Even the websites of Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council are deficient in information. The status of non-compliance is notwithstanding the fact that even General Administration Department has issued numerous circulars about compliance to Section 4 of RTI Act a number of times.
Taking this state of affairs into consideration and considering the ground reality that many of these public authorities have not even maintained websites, the expectation that suo moto disclosure of information by the departments and public authority institutions remains a distant dream. The people want that the Act is enforced in letter and in spirit. The Information Commission of the State has give time till June to all the departments to post suo moto information on their websites. We hope that realizing their responsibility towards the people and also following the repeated instructions of the GAD, all departments and public authorities will file information on the website and thus give a start to implementation of the RTI in letter and in spirit.
It is unacceptable that some Government institutions have not so far set up their websites and others that have set them up are not updated regularly. It is no use setting up the website if it is not updated every day to keep people informed about the progress in various aspects of concerned departments.