*Non-compliance continues even 8 yrs after enactment of law
JAMMU, Apr 20: Non-compliance to provisions relating to suo-moto disclosure of information was just the tip of an iceberg as large number of Public Authorities of the State have also not appointed Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Assistant Public Information Officers (AIPOs) and designated First Appellate Authority (FAA) in blatant violation of Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act, 2009. In this way, these Public Authorities are sending message loud and clear that they don’t want transparency at all in their functioning.
Section 5(1) of the J&K Right to Information Act stipulates that every Public Authority shall within one hundred days of the commencement of the Act designate as many officers as the Public Information Officers in all the administrative units or offices under it as may be necessary to provide information to persons filing applications under the Act.
Similarly, Section 5(2) of the Act states that without prejudice to provisions of Sub-Section (1), every Public Authority shall designate an officer within one hundred days of the commencement of the Act at each sub-divisional level and other sub-district level as an Assistant Public Information Officer to receive the applications for information or appeals under the Act for forwarding the same forthwith to the Public Information Officer or senior officer specified under Sub-Section (1) of Section 16 or the State Information Commission as the case may be.
However, the Chief Information Commissioner Khurshid A Ganai has noticed that large number of Public Authorities have not taken action in terms of the provisions of Section 5 for appointment of Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) despite the fact that any application under RTI Act reaches PIOs and APIOs at the very first stage before its disposal.
“In the absence of PIOs and APIOs how much difficulties the people are facing in filing applications can be easily gauged”, official sources said, adding “the inordinate delay in appointment of PIOs and APIOs amounts to creating impediments in the way of seeking information by the applicants”.
Similarly, Section 16 prescribes designation of a senior officer in the Public Authorities as the First Appellate Authority (FAA). “However, this Section is also being breached by large number of Public Authorities despite the fact that any appeal challenging the information provided by the PIOs is required to be filed before the FAA”, sources said.
Taking serious note of non-compliance, the Chief Information Commissioner has recommended to all the Public Authorities in the State to take appropriate action under Section 5 for appointment of PIOs and APIOs if such officials have not been designated and notified so far or where substitutes have not been designated and notified against vacancies that have arisen due to transfer or retirement of the incumbent.
Similarly, the CIC has recommended to all the Public Authorities in the State to take appropriate action for designation of suitable senior officers in the Public Authority as FAAs in terms of Section 16 (1) of the Act to hear the first appeal from the RTI applicants if such officers have not been designated or notified so far or where substitutes have not been designated and notified against vacancies that have arisen due to transfer or retirement of the incumbent.
The Commission has issued these directives in terms of Section 22(5) which stipulates: “If it appears to the State Information Commission that the practice of a Public Authority in relation to the exercise of its functions under the Act doesn’t conform with the provisions or spirit of the Act, it may give to the Authority recommendation specifying the steps which ought in its opinion to be taken for promoting such conformity”.
It is pertinent to mention here that EXCELSIOR on April 17, 2017 had exclusively highlighted that State Accountability Commission, State High Court and State Human Rights Commission were among 70 Public Authorities which were not showing compliance to directives on suo-moto disclosure of information.
It was also highlighted in the report that numerous Public Authorities have even failed to come up with their respective websites, which otherwise are imperative for ensuring compliance to Section 4 of the Act pertaining to suo-moto disclosure of information.
“It is a matter of serious concern that even eight years after the enactment of RTI Act that non-compliance is continuing from Public Authorities and State Information Commission is compelled to issue one after another notification stressing upon strict adherence to the provisions of law aimed at ensuring transparency”, sources remarked.