Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
As State Information Commission (SIC) kept issuing penalty shown cause notices to designated Public Information Officers (PIOs) and not actually penalizing them, I wrote a piece “Time to penalize Transgressors” ( Excelsior April 6th 2018). This was my emotional outburst against Information Commission which I felt was not using its powers conferred to it under section 17 of J&K RTI Act 2009. After more than 3 months the State Information Commission (SIC) has started acting against these transgressors and very recently two PIOs have been penalized for dishonouring State RTI Law. When Mr Khurshid Ahmad Ganai resigned from the post of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), I was under the impression that State Information Commission (SIC) would become impotent and ineffective, but the way SIC penalized two designated PIOs one an Assistant Director of Food Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs (FCS & CA) and another Block Development Officer (BDO) , I along with my fellow RTI campaigners have got a sigh of relief. We now feel RTI will not die its own death. Through this write-up I am analyzing the recent penalty cases along with its background.
Assistant Director FCS & CA
During 2014 floods Government of J&K provided free ration for several months to affected people. There were several complaints that the free ration was not reaching to real beneficiaries. Complaints from several areas were coming to us that there was gross mismanagement and black-marketing of the free ration. From Beerwah area of Budgam district we got several complaints and one of our senior activists Mujtaba Bashir who has been associated with JK RTI Movement from last several years filed an application under State RTI Act 2009. Mujtaba send the application via speed on 8th April 2017 to Assistant Director Food Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs Budgam (FCS &CA). Assistant Director is also the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) under J&K RTI Act 2009 in FCS & CA department at district level. Mujtaba sought details of the ration supplied along with challan papers from Budgam store to zone Beerwah , circle A and B with effect from October 2014 to March 2015 (post floods). Further he sought details of ration supplied from zone Beerwah and circles A & B to concerned ration stores of the tehsil. The designated PIO (Assistant Director) did not provide the information within stipulated time of 30 days. The aggrieved directly filed a complaint under section 15 of J&K RTI Act 2009 before J&K State Information Commission (SIC). Inspite of notice and direction from SIC , the PIO did not adhered to the due process of law. Instead of responding to the information seeker, the PIO told Tehsil Supply Officer (TSO) to providethe information which is in violation of RTI Act. Under RTI law (state / central RTI laws) the designated PIOs have to provide the information themselves. This was the basic mistake committed by PIO (Assistant Director Food Budgam). I can’t make allegations that Assistant Director (designated PIO under RTI Act) was involved in black-marketing of the ration but he actually had violated the RTI law. J&K RTI Act 2009 is enforced in state of J&K from last almost 10 years , if our PIOs still do not know how to dispose off RTI applications, I believe they have to face the wrath of the SIC. For addressing black-marketing of the ration it is now the duty of Vigilance and Crime branch to look into that aspect.
State Information Commission (SIC) vide its order SIC /K/Comp/09/2017 Dated 23.5.2018 found the officer namely xxxxx then Assistant Director FCS & CA Budgam guilty of violating the provisions of J&K RTI Act 2009. The Commission directed the Director FCS &CA Kashmir to deduct Rs 25,000 from his salary as penalty amount. The Director vide his letter No: DFCS&CAK/Adm/B-X-347 Dated: 16.07.2018 directed the officer who is now posted as Assistant Director Ganderbal to deduct Rs 25,0000 from his own salary . The officer incidentally happens to be drawing and disbursing officer (DDO) of his department in Ganderbal district as on date. Director FCS &CA Kashmir’s recent order reads as :
“Please refer copy of order under section 17 of J&K RTI Act 2009 issued by J&K State Information Commission (JKSIC) where-under penalty of Rs 25,000(Twenty Five Thousand Only) has been imposed upon you (the then Assistant Director Budgam) by Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner . As such you are advised to deduct the said penalty amount from your salary and remit the same to the appropriate Government head account”
BDO from Ramban
As already mentioned in my April 6th 2018 article one Ahmad Din Lohar S/O Late Haji Ghulam Rasool R/O Gool, Ramban filed an appeal before State Information Commission (SIC) against Bloc Development Officer (BDO) Gool , district Ramban. The BDO also happens to be the designated PIO of the said block. Lohar in his appeal alleged that BDO/ PIO has not furnished the information to him within the stipulated times. Ahmad Din Lohar who had filed an RTI application before BDO in July 2017 intended to seek population details with name of the family members, of Panchayat halqas Gool-B and Gool-Parthimulla . As the PIO / BDO failed to respond to information seeker , the appellant filed 1st appeal before Director Rural Development Department Jammu on 10-07-2017. Again feeling aggrieved Ahmad Din Lohar in October 2017 filed 2nd appeal before the State Information Commission (SIC). SIC heard the case on several occasions, but the BDO Gool who was later on transferred never bothered to appear before the Information Commission. On one occasion ACD Ramban had send his Village Level Worker (VLW) to appear before Chief Information Commissioner which was viewed very seriously by the then CIC Khurshid Ahmad Ganai. The CIC directed for issuance of penalty show cause notice to the BDO and asked him to respond within a period of 15 days as to why penalty proceedings under section 17 of the J&K RTI Act, 2009 may not be imposed upon him for denying the information to Ahmad Din Lohar ? The BDO again failed to respond to CIC’s penalty show cause notice . The penalty proceedings one again came up for hearing before the State Information Commission (SIC) on 23-07-2018. Finally Mr xxxxx , former PIO/BDO, Gool who is presently BDO Gundi Dharam, district Ramban appeared in person before the present the Information Commissioner Mohammad Ashraf Mir who finally awarded penalty of Rs 10,000 against him. The order issued by Information Commissioner reads as
“Any lenient view in this matter would only encourage infringement and transgression of the provisions of J&K RTI Act, 2009 at the hands of PIOs and would obstruct and frustrate effective implementation of the Act in the State. A penalty of Rs. 10,000/- (Rupees Ten Thousand) is accordingly imposed upon Mr xxx , the then PIO/BDO, Gool and now BDO, Gundi Dharam, Ramban payable by him in person and deductible from his monthly salary. The Drawing & Disbursing Officer/District Panchayat Officer, Ramban is directed to deduct an amount of Rs. 10,000/- from the salary of Mr xxx , BDO, Gundi Dharam immediately in two equal installments and deposit the same in the relevant Government Account. The District Treasury Officer, Ramban is also directed not to honour/accept any salary bills from DDO/DPO, Ramban unless and until the said amount is deducted by him from the salary of Mr xxx. District Treasury Officer, Ramban and DPO, Ramban are also directed to submit compliance report to the Commission as soon as the amount of penalty is realized ”
Section 17 of J&K RTI Act 2009 empowers State Information Commission (SIC) to penalize the erring PIOs , the commission in past has been lenient merciful towards them right from the day SIC got constituted in 2011. There might be several reasons for it. In-fact some Ministers in Govt in also were also not happy vis a vis people using RTI as Govt officers directly in contact with people kept complaining before Ministers and MLAs about the so called misuse of RTI law. During the ongoing Governors rule it seems SIC feels empowered and unshackled. I am sure many other pending cases of penalty will be decided soon. Hope judiciary also takes a serious view of the penalty cases as some of the penalized PIOs approach higher judiciary for quashment of SICs orders.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat