*Set-back to transparency regime as use of RTI declines
JAMMU, Feb 16: As the PDP-BJP Coalition Government has preferred to ignore its notice issued one and half months back, the Jammu and Kashmir State Accountability Commission (SAC) has directed the Commissioner/ Secretary General Administration Department to file response indicating the steps taken to infuse new lease of life in defunct State Information Commission or appear in person on next date of hearing to explain the willful disobedience of the directive.
Meanwhile, due to dilly-dallying approach of the Government in making appointment of new Chief Information Commissioner and two Information Commissioners the transparency regime has suffered severe set-back with people not coming forward to make use of the Right To Information Act.
The State Accountability Commission, while taking serious note of non-functioning of the State Information Commission during the past several months, had in the first week of January this year issued notice to the Government through Commissioner/ Secretary General Administration Department seeking information vis-Ă -vis steps initiated towards making appointment of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners.
This was done by the Accountability Commission while exercising suo-moto powers available under J&K State Accountability Commission Act and upheld by the Division Bench of the State High Court when challenged before it by the Government. Moreover, the action on the part of Accountability Commission was based on the reports highlighting non-serious approach of the Government towards the Information Commission.
“Though nearly one and half month period has lapsed since the issuance of notice by the Accountability Commission yet the Government has not filed any reply”, sources said while disclosing that the Full Commission comprising Justice B A Khan (Chairperson) and Justice J P Singh and Justice B A Kirmani (Members) took serious note of this in its meeting held on February 14.
Now, the Full Commission has directed the Commissioner/ Secretary, General Administration Department to file response by mentioning the steps taken to infuse new lease of life in the defunct State Information Commission by next date of hearing or appear in person to explain disobedience of the directive, sources informed.
“Actually, the General Administration Department has not received any direction from the Government till date for starting the process to fill up the posts of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners”, reliable sources said, adding “the Government is intentionally delaying the exercise as it wants to adjust well-connected officers to the posts of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners after their retirement from the active Government service within next few months”.
“It is only because of this reason that no instruction has been issued to the General Administration Department to prepare the list of probables as per the qualification contained in the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act”, they said.
The non-serious approach of the Government towards filling posts of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners is notwithstanding the fact that transparency regime, which was established up to certain extent due to strenuous efforts of first ever Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners, has suffered severe set-back due to defunct State Information Commission.
“Prior to retirement of first ever Chief Information Commissioner the Commission was receiving on an average 25 applications under RTI Act per month and this number has reduced drastically to four-five applications per month at present”, sources in Information Commission said, adding “in the absence of CIC and ICs, the officers posted in the Commission have been left with no other option than to keep these applications pending simply after issuance of notice for which Registrar has powers as defined under the Act”.
Similar is the fate of applications in which directives were issued by the Commission to different authorities of the State, sources further said, adding “all this clearly establishes that people have stopped making use of Right to Information Act, which otherwise was receiving overwhelming response from cross section of society to extract information about functioning of various organs of the State”.
“The non-serious approach has made it clear that PDP-BJP Coalition Government doesn’t want transparency in its functioning and tall claims in this regard being made in official statements are only aimed at befooling the common masses”, sources remarked.