Saturday, May 06, 2017

As RTI appeals pile up in SIC

Greater Kashmir: Srinagar: Saturday, May 06, 2017.
After recent appointment of Mr Khurshid Ganai as  State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), the aggrieved citizens especially RTI information seekers, RTI campaigners and activists  have got a sigh of relief. They are again turning to the State Information Commission (SIC) by  filing complaints and appeals. As there are dozens of pending appeals and complaints before this commission it  is a very difficult  task for the  Chief Information Commissioner (CIC)  to dispose off these cases.
As per the provisions of J&K RTI Act 2009 , the State Information Commission (SIC) has to hear & dispose off  2nd appeal within a period  of 60 days. In special cases it may be extended to another 60 days (120 days total), but in such cases  SIC has to provide a reason for the delay. SIC does not works like any other court , tribunal or Information Commissions of other state in India   where petitioners are made to wait for years and years. This provision is not there in Central RTI Act 2005 and that is why J&K RTI Act 2009 is much robust  than  Central RTI Act 2005 for this particular provision.  There are dozens of cases pending before SIC and if CIC disposes off even 4 to 5 cases daily , he cannot do justice.
State Information Commission (SIC) which is constituted under the provisions of J&K RTI Act 2009 became defunct last year in November when SIC’s lone Information Commissioner Mr Nazir Ahmad completed his term  as Information Commissioner .Nazir Ahmad was appointed as Information Commissioner in November 2011 soon after he retired as Chief Engineer in J&K Public Works Department (PWD). Before his term ended in November 2016 , Mr Ghulam Rasool Sufi , IRS completed his 5 year tenure as State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) in February 2016. Mr Sufi  a 1977 batch Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer served on very import posts in Central Income Tax Department prior to his appointment as CIC. 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.
Mr Khurshid Ahmad Ganai, who took oath of State Chief Information Commissioner on March 3rd 2017 has many challenges before him. First of all he has to dispose off  dozens of  pending appeals and complaints. He needs to ensure proper implementation of section 4 (1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009 wherein Govt organisations are directed  to make voluntary disclosure of information through websites and other means . In-fact he has issued a circular in this regard and we hope Govt acts over it. More than eight years have passed since J&K RTI Act 2009 got enacted , but Government  departments have not digitised their record and very less information is available in public domain through websites and other means. For simple information people have to file applications under RTI Act which otherwise should have been proactively available on websites.
Conclusion :
During his RTI roundtable in Srinagar and Jammu Mr Ganai seemed very serious about RTI implementation especially ensuring voluntary disclosure. Govt must appoint two more Information Commissioners without any delay as all the work  load is on CIC only.  If two more commissioners are not appointed within few more months  , newly appointed CIC cannot dispose off RTI appeals within a stipulated time of 60 to 120 days  and this would be again a violation of J&K RTI Act 2009. Lastly J&K RTI Act 2009 should be amended in such way wherein a provision should be incorporated for appointment of Information Commissioners within a specific time. As of now  even if  Information Commissioner is not appointed for years together , the RTI law is totally silent on this and this has to be rectified by the lawmakers.