FAAs remain weak link in implementation of J&K RTI Act

Dedicated cells in offices yet to become reality

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Apr 28: Even nearly nine years after the enactment of Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act, the First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) have remained weak link in the implementation of transparency law in the State. Moreover, nearly 130 Public Authorities have yet not fully complied with Section 4 of the Act, which lays down various obligations for suo-moto disclosure of information.
This came to the fore during the exclusive interview of Chief Information Commissioner of J&K Khurshid Ahmed Ganai by EXCELSIOR.
As per the figures of the State Information Commission, on an average 25,000 to 30,000 applications under Right to Information Act are received by the Public Information Officers (PIOs) across the State every year, which is a clear indication that people are making optimum use of the transparency law to get information from the Public Authorities and Commission has succeeded in generating much awareness among the people about this landmark legislation.
Similarly, on an average 1200 to 2500 first appeals are filed every year with the First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) by the appellants after getting incomplete or dissatisfactory replies to their RTI applications from the PIOs.
Because of the inability of the First Appellate Authorities to dispose of the first appeals up to the satisfaction of the appellants on an average 500 to 750 second appeals are filed before the State Information Commission. This clearly establishes that First Appellate Authorities have remained weak link in the implementation of J&K RTI Act even nearly nine years after the enactment of legislation.
Commenting on this, the Chief Information Commissi-oner said, “this is mainly because there is no provision of imposing penalty on the First Appellate Authorities under the J&K RTI Act”, adding “as per the provisions of the transparency law penalty can only be imposed on the Public Information Officers (PIOs) of the Public Authorities”.
“First Appellate Authority is quasi-judicial in nature and generally penalties are not prescribed against such authorities”, the CIC said. He, however, feels that RTI Act needs to be amended at least to make First Appellate Authorities accountable for timely disposal of first appeals that too up to the satisfaction of the appellants. He hoped that Government will take note of this aspect so as to bring further improvement in the implementation of RTI Act.
In response to a question regarding penalty proceedings initiated by the Commission against the PIOs for their failure to implement RTI Act in letter and spirit, Ganai said, “during the period between March 2017 and March 2018 the Commission had initiated 46 penalty proceedings. In four cases the penalty was imposed while as proceedings were dropped in 13 cases”, adding “penalty proceedings are going on in 29 cases as on March 31, 2018”.
When asked about compliance of Section 4 of the RTI Act, the Chief Information Commissioner said, “there is marked improvement on this front and during 2016-17 around 120 Public Authorities started showing compliance to Section 4 by either developing websites or making suo-moto disclosure of the information”. He, however, disclosed that around 130 Public Authorities have yet not shown compliance to this vital provision of the transparency law. Of these Public Authorities, around 90 don’t have their own websites so far.
This is notwithstanding the fact that State Information Commission is regularly writing to the General Administration Department on this front and the latter is issuing circular instructions to the Public Authorities after regular intervals.
Responding to a question regarding establishment of RTI Cells in all the Public Authorities, Ganai said, “such cells are yet to be established in all the offices despite the fact that this step will pave the way for further improvement in implementation of RTI Act”. He stressed that every office should have RTI Cell with relevant details particularly about its manpower on the notice board for the convenience of the public desiring to seek any sort of information.
“No doubt training to the officers in implementation of RTI Act is being given by Institute of Management and Public Administration but this step is required to be initiated at the district level for effective handling and timely disposal of applications under RTI Act”, he further stressed.
The Chief Information Commissioner is of the opinion that if deadlines for disposal of RTI applications are strictly adhered to by the PIOs much of the issues in the implementation of transparency law will get resolved.
Replying to another query, the CIC said, “I have been told that Government is on the job to implement landmark judgments delivered by the Commission for overall good of the public and transparency in the functioning of the Public Authorities”.