*Defunct transparency watchdog may become functional shortly
JAMMU, Feb 20: Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission, which is lying defunct during the past several months, is likely to become functional shortly as Chief Minister-headed Committee is meeting tomorrow evening to finalize the names for the posts of Chief Information Commi-ssioner (CIC) and two Information Commissioners (ICs).
The State Information Commission, which was established under Jammu and Kashmir Right To Information Act, played crucial role in establishing transparency regime in the State by compelling various organs of the State Government to timely furnish information to the applicants.
However, the transparency regime received first blow when one of the Information Commissioners Dr S K Sharma completed his term on October 31, 2015 but the Government failed to fill up this post soon after his retirement.
The State Information Commission received second jolt when Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) G R Sufi completed his term on February 29, 2016 but the Government failed to make any arrangement in advance for filling up the post of CIC. The transparency watchdog received third and final setback on November 17, 2016 when the second Information Commissioner Er Nazir Ahmed completed his term.
The failure of the PDP-BJP Coalition Government to take timely steps to fill-up vacant positions in the State Information Commission was highlighted exclusively by EXCELSIOR a number of times mentioning that use of Right To Information Act has declined considerably because of defunct Information Commission.
“Finally, the Government has woken up to the necessity of filling vacant posts in the State Information Commission and a committee headed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is meeting tomorrow evening to finalize the names for the posts of Chief Information Commissioner and two Information Commissioners”, highly placed sources told EXCELSIOR.
The J&K Right To Information Act says: The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor on the recommendations of a committee consisting of Chief Minister, who shall be chairperson of the committee, Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly and a Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Chief Minister.
Former Chief Minister and National Conference MLA, Omar Abdullah, who is the leader of single largest party in the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, has been conveyed about the scheduled meeting. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has also invited Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh to the meeting for being senior Cabinet Minister.
According to the sources, former IAS officers Parvez Dewan, Khurshid Ganai and Mohd Iqbal Khandey are in the panel for the post of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) as these three officers qualify the criteria fixed under the RTI Act for the top position in State Information Commission.
It is pertinent to mention here that Pervez Dewan and Khurshid Ganai remained Advisors to the Governor N N Vohra when Governor was looking after the affairs of the State early last year. Mohd Iqbal Khandey had voluntarily retired in August 2015-three months ahead of his scheduled retirement as Chief Secretary in November 2015.
About the Information Commissioners, sources said, “the Chief Minister headed Committee may consider the names of certain IAS officers, who are presently in active Government service but are going to attain superannuation within next few months”.
“If the consensus emerged in the meeting on the names for the posts of CIC and ICs the Government will immediately forward the same to the Governor, who has the powers to make appointments as per the provisions of RTI Act”, sources said, adding “if everything goes well the defunct transparency watchdog will become functional within next few days”.
The State Government is already in the dock before the State Accountability Commis-sion (SAC) which has taken suo-moto cognizance of the revelations made by EXCELSIOR regarding non-functioning of Information Commission.
As reported exclusively by EXCELSIOR few days back, the Full Commission comprising Justice B A Khan (Chairperson) and Justice J P Singh and Justice B A Kirmani (Members) has already directed the Commissioner/ Secretary, General Administr-ation Department to file response indicating the steps taken to infuse new lease of life in defunct State Information Commission by March 8, 2017 or appear in person to explain willful disobedience of the directive.