Friday, May 19, 2017

Unnecessary transfer of RTI applications ? : Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Daily Excelsior: Srinagar: Friday, May 19, 2017.
From last few years what I have witnessed is that Pubic Information Officers (PIOs) are taking an undue advantage of section 6 (3) of J&K RTI Act 2009 wherein the Government officers are bound  to transfer the application filed under RTI to another public authority in case they are not in possession of the information which is being sought under RTI Act . Now it has become a habit of many  PIOs especially those posted in Administrative Departments  (Civil Secretariat) to transfer the RTI application to their respective Sub Ordinate Organizations and Directorates. The subordinate organizations, DC offices and directorates further transfer these applications to their district, divisional, block , tehsil  and other line departments. Recently I sought information from Planning & Development Department about the allocation of funds to various departments, its utilization , funds getting lapsed and reason for such lapses. The Civil Secretariat Planning Department forwarded my application to all the departments and directorates by invoking section 6 (3) of  J&K  RTI Act 2009. Had Planning &  Development  Department not been in possession of this information , in that case it was well understandable why my application was forwarded to other organizations, but Planning Department is in possession of all this information.  The PIO of this organization in order to play safe forwarded my application to dozens of Govt organizations. Until now I got information from only two Departments ie Directorate of Agriculture and DG Fire & Emergency Department.
Section 6 (3) of RTI Act ?
Section 6 (3) of J&K RTI Act 2009 says that where an application under RTI Act is made to a public authority requesting for an information which is held by another public authority or the subject matter of which is more closely connected with the functions of another public authority , the public authority to which such application is made , shall transfer the application or such part of it as may be appropriate to that another public authority and information RTI applicant immediately about such transfer. This section is basically a safeguard for RTI applicants who at many times are told that information sought for belongs to some other organization. If an information seeker files an RTI application before Block Development Officer (BDO) and  details of Health Department are sought  , the BDO cannot reject the application , but the officer will invoke section 6 (3) of State RTI Act 2009 and forward the application to Block Medical Officer (BMO), Chief Medical Officer (CMO) or even Directorate of Health . The section 6 (3) is a safeguard for illiterate and people belonging to disadvantaged communities, but unfortunately this section is misused a lot by PIOs and even First Appellate Authorities (FAAs).
Planning Department :
Can Planning & Development Department give in writing that the information sought my me is not available with them ? How is it possible that details about budget allocated to various public authorities (Govt departments) ,  its utilization and funds getting lapsed during last three financial years  is not maintained by them ? They are supposed to have all this information , but in order to avoid information seekers they simply misuse one of the provisions of RTI law. I can quote several instances wherein RTI applications have been forwarded by public authorities to their sub ordinate departments in-spite of the fact that they were in possession of the information which was sought under RTI Act . Few years back I sought information from Civil Secretariat Power Department about  allotment of works on various power projects . My application was forwarded to various Chief Engineers by the PIO of Civil Secretariat Power Department in-spite of the fact that his own department was in possession of such information.
Conclusion :
Section 7 of J&K RTI Act 2009 says that on receipt of an RTI request the Public Information Officer (PIO) shall as expeditiously as possible dispose of the said request but  it should not take more than 30 days for such disposal . When the PIO transfers RTI application to another Public Authority under section 6 (3) , it takes months together to get the information. The information which is provided by the dozens of Govt organizations is misleading and RTI applicant faces difficulty to compile the same. Recently Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Khurshid Ahmad Ganai issued an order warning PIO of DC office Srinagar as he forwarded an RTI application to a tehsildar by misusing section 6 (3) of State RTI Act. The RTI applicant was seeking a copy of report submitted before Vigilance Organisation by DC office  some time back. The DC office PIO forwarded the application  to Tehsildar Shalateng.
What a cruel joke is this ? How can Tehsildar have this  information with him as he had nothing to do with it ?  When the information seeker Abdul Majid Zargar a resident of Zainakot Srinagar didn’t get any response from said Tehsildar, he filed appeal before DC Srinagar, the DC again forwarded his appeal to SDM Srinagar West in-spite of the fact that SDM was not in possession of the said information (copy of Vigilance report ). These were all delaying tactics used by DC office Srinagar, but finally they were taken to task by the CIC. Details about budget allocation , its utilization and funds getting lapsed is supposed to be made available pro actively by all the organizations under section 4 (1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009 , but Planning Department has failed to do the same and that is another violation of the RTI Act.