CIC reprimands SDM, BDO, XEn for gross violation of RTI Act provisions

‘Officers remain ignorant about statutory role’

*Notices excessive delay in rebuilding of vital record

Mohinder Verma

JAMMU, July 11: In yet another instance of embarrassment for the J&K Government, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has reprimanded Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Block Development Officer (BDO) and an Executive Engineer (XEn) for gross violation of the provisions of Right to Information Act and observed that many officers of the Union Territory are still ignorant about their statutory role under the transparency law.
Moreover, the Commission has noticed inordinate delay in reconstruction of vital record of the Rural Development Department, which was gutted nearly four years back in a devastating fire.
As per the case before the Central Information Commission, an applicant moved an application before the Sub-Divisional Magistrate having jurisdiction over tehsil Mandal in Jammu and sought information regarding operation of saw mills running in village Ganeshu Chak.
However, the applicant was denied the information which compelled him to knock the doors of the Central Information Commission.
“The conduct of the PIO in prima-facie not having provided any reply on the RTI application amounts to a deemed refusal to provide information and is a gross violation of the provisions of the RTI Act”, the Information Commissioner in the Central Information Commission Divya Prakash Sinha said and directed the PIO to show-cause as to why action should not be initiated against him under Section 20(1) and 20(2) of the RTI Act for failing to comply with the provisions of the transparency law.
“If onus for omission lies with any other individual including the then PIO, the present PIO will ensure service of this order to such other individuals and seek their explanation on said count”, the Information Commissioner said, adding “the present PIO shall ensure that under all circumstances written submissions of the delinquent PIO reach the Commission within 30 days”.
The Information Commissioner has marked the copy of the order to the Deputy Commissioner Jammu for taking note of the apparent ignorance of the respondent regarding statutory role under RTI Act and to ensure compliance of the directions by the concerned PIOs.
Another case before the Central Information Commission was that an application was filed in the office of Block Development Officer Kishtwar seeking information regarding details of works executed under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and Backward Regions Grant Fund (BGRF) since 2011 along with details of beneficiaries.
When the case was taken up for hearing by the Information Commissioner, the BDO Kishtwar submitted that the appellant was categorically informed that due to a fire incident, which took place on October 9, 2016, all records were either destroyed or could not be traced.
On this, the Information Commissioner took strong exception to the fact that no reply was provided on the RTI applicant within the stipulated time-frame of RTI Act, rather action was taken only after the First Appellate Authority’s order.
Since there has been considerable delay in providing the information and appellant has alleged non-receipt of information during hearing, the Commission directed the PIO to facilitate an opportunity of inspection of available records and assist the appellant in identifying and assessing the specific websites where information sought by the applicant would be available.
The Central Information Commission has also scolded the Executive Engineer in the office of Superintending Engineer, Power Development Department (PDD) Kishtwar for denying timely information regarding infrastructure provided by the Electricity Department.
The PIO simply told the applicant that relevant record for the period before 2004 was sent back to Doda Division and same might be available there.
“The perusal of facts on record reveals that PIO erred in merely asking the appellant to seek the information from another Public Authority. If the PIO was aware of the probable holder of information, it was incumbent upon him to transfer the RTI applicant under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act to the concerned PIO”, the Information Commissioner said.
The Commission has directed the PIO to procure available and relevant information for the period since the year 2004 from the concerned record holder and facilitate the inspection of record.
These three cases have explicitly brought to the fore that several officers of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir are still ignorant about their statutory role under the RTI Act and Government in coordination with the Central Information Commission must organize programmes to acquaint these officers about the provisions of the transparency law.
“If this is not done the Government will continue to face embarrassment before the Central Information Commission”, sources said.