Monday, April 03, 2017

Will Government respect VDI notification : Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Daily Excelsior: Srinagar: Monday, April 03, 2017.
It is now more than 8 years since Jammu & Kashmir Right to Information Act 2009 (J&K RTI Act 2009) got enacted. It was on March 20th 2009 when State Legislature enacted the present version of RTI Act. Even after the lapse of so many years,  Public Authorities particularly the  Government departments have miserably failed to take this legislation seriously. There is an important provision in RTI Act wherein suo moto or voluntary disclosure of certain information is to be made by the public authorities. This provision  is contained in section 4 (1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009 & in  Central RTI Act of 2005 as well . Under this section all the Public Authorities which includes Government Departments , semi Government Departments , Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) , Corporations , Boards ,Commissions , Councils  etc have to make proactive disclosure of all their official orders , circulars , notices, selection list , beneficiary list , merit list and much more . The suo moto  disclosure is to be done in order to  ensure  that such  information is readily available in the  public domain especially through the official  websites plus making the information public via  notice boards , newspapers , circulars, citizen charters, booklets   etc. People need not to seek such information under RTI Act. As per J&K RTI Act 2009 the suo moto or proactive disclosure was to be made within four months (120 days) of the enactment of the J&K RTI Act 2009 . The  J&K RTI Act was enacted on March 20th 2009 and the Government should have made the voluntary / suo moto disclosures by the end of July 2009, but  even till date the 80 %  of the Government controlled organizations   haven’t done so which is a clear violation of J&K RTI Act 2009.
Past intervention by SIC:
The J&K State Information Commission (SIC) which is an institution for   implementation of Right to Information in the state tried its level best to stress upon the Govt to implement RTI Act particularly section 4 (1) (b) (pro active disclosure). Former State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) G R Sufi issued at least three dozen orders against different  public authorities directing them to upload all the information about official policies , orders , circulars , seniority lists , beneficiaries of various Government schemes etc on  their official websites under an intimation to SIC but in-spite his orders  these  public authorities never implemented  the orders (except a few).  It is a matter of serious concern that there are several Govt organizations who still do not have their official websites.  Govt departments who have official websites are not being updated on regular basis. All the obsolete and un important  information  is available on these  websites. Except 5 to 10  public authorities  most of the departmental websites are not being updated regularly in-spite of the fact that crores  of rupees from tax payers money is being  been spent for creation and maintenance of  these official websites.
Recent intervention by CIC :
Newly appointed State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Khurshid Ahmad Ganai in order to ensure voluntary disclosure of information under section 4 (1) (b) of State RTI Act 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 vide its official notification No : SIC /J/15/2009 -11 /148-80 Dated 17.3.2017 has directed the public authorities  to make proactive ( suo moto) disclosure of information under section 4 of State RTI Act  by of before June 30th or face action. The SIC’s notification in this regard 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 :
During the tenure of  G R Sufi  former State  Chief Information Commissioner,  lots  of efforts were put to ensure digitization of official record  and updating the said information  on official websites of  the  Public Authorities  but in-spite of his five year long  struggle , the suo moto disclosure of Information still remains a distant dream in Jammu & Kashmir. This is one of the serious challenges for the State Information Commission (SIC). Why shall a citizen file an application under RTI Act to get a copy of beneficiary list of old age pension of his or her mohalla or a village ? Why shall a villager have to file an RTI application to know the beneficiaries of rural housing scheme under  Indira Awas Yojna (IAY)  from his village panchayat ? Why shall a Government job  aspirant  file an RTI application to get the merit list or copies of written test papers  from Public Service Commission (PSC) or Services Selection Board (SSB) ? This type of information has to be made proactively available by Government departments and other Public Authorities.
The fresh orders issued on the directions of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) to enforce the provision of voluntary disclosure of information is indeed a welcome step and we are hopeful that by June 30th all the Public Authorities in J&K would adhere to this notification. It is urged upon the Government especially the State Chief Secretary to take this notification very seriously. He must respect the orders of State Information Commission (SIC) which in-fact is meant for public good and to ensure transparency and accountability within our Government organizations.