‘Mechanism needed for mgmt of transparency law’s record’
* Conveys displeasure over evading of responsibility
JAMMU, July 3: Central Information Commission (CIC) has passed strictures against some officers of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory for inept handling of applications under Right to Information Act and stressed the need for proper management of the records pertaining to the transparency law.
The observations recorded by the Central Information Commission while disposing of complaints clearly establish that even several years after the enactment of law aimed at ensuring transparency in the functioning of the Government departments certain officers are either not aware of its provisions or not feeling comfortable in timely furnishing information to the applicants.
As per the case before the Central Information Commission, an application under RTI Act was filed before the Divisional Forest Officer Jammu seeking information through 9 points regarding sale of timber by the Forest Department. However, the application was not accepted by the then PIO as ‘Pay To” column in the Indian Postal Order (IPO) was left blank by the applicant.
After filing of First Appeal, the complainant provided correct IPO and subsequently relevant information sought in the RTI application was provided to him. The ground for the complaint before the CIC was that the PIO initially returned the RTI application citing non-receipt of proper fee even as the same as prescribed in RTI Rules was provided.
After hearing Alok Kumar Maurya, Additional Forest Officer and Divisional Forest Officer Jammu Forest Division, the Information Commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha observed, “the PIO clarified that the RTI application was returned on the ground that the Pay To column in Indian Postal Order was left bank, adding “the Commission deems this to be an improper conduct as the then PIO could have filled the column himself”.
“It was not the case that the complainant had drawn an incorrect IPO, he had merely left the column blank perhaps to avert a situation where his IPO returned on the grounds of being incorrectly filed”, the Information Commissioner said and expressed severe displeasure over the conduct of the then PIO in having evaded the responsibility to act in the letter and spirit of the RTI Act.
Though Commission chose not to initiate penal action against the officer yet it expects PIOs under the RTI Act to be reasonable in their approach while dealing with RTI applications and to rather assist the RTI applicants to the extent possible in securing access to information.
Another case before the Central Information Commission was that information was sought regarding income generated and expenditure incurred during 2016-17, site plans and map of land under the jurisdiction of Municipal Committee Magam in Budgam district and number of functional and non-functional rest-rooms constructed by the Municipal Committee. However, the same was unreasonably denied for quite long time by the PIO.
During the course of hearing, the PIO-cum-Executive Officer of Municipal Committee Magam Syed Bashir Ahmed tendered unconditional regret and stated that the RTI application was misplaced during shifting of records and after receiving the instant RTI application along with erstwhile J&K State Information Commission notice, relevant and available information was provided to the complaint through the special messenger.
However, the Information Commissioner took serious note of the conduct of the PIO and observed, “the RTI Act casts a statutory duty upon PIO/CPIOs to provide information within a stipulated time-frame failing which the concerned PIO/CPIO is liable for both penal and disciplinary action”, adding “despite these legal ramifications, respondent failed to exercise due diligence in the upkeep of records pertaining to the RTI Act”.
Accordingly, the Central Information Commission has directed the PIO to place this order before the competent authority to take note of the adverse observations and to instantaneously look into the management of records pertaining to RTI Act.
The thrust on putting in place a proper mechanism for management of records pertaining to the transparency law has also been laid in other complaints which have been disposed of by the Central Information Commission ever since it started looking into applicability of Central RTI Act in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
From the complaints before the Central Information Commission it has come to the fore that even several years after the enactment of transparency law officers of the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory are either not aware of its provisions or not feeling comfortable in timely furnishing information to the applicants.