Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
Recently State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Governor Satya Pal Malik approved enactment of the ‘Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2018. The main aim of this amendment is to facilitate appointment of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and State Information Commissioners (ICs) during the Governor’s Rule or Presidents Rule. Under J&K RTI Act 2009 these appointments are made by Governor on the recommendation of a committee headed by Chief Minister. Other members of the committee are leader of opposition (LoP) or leader of single largest party in case there is no LoP, and one cabinet Minister nominated by Chief Minister. Aftermath of Mr Khurshid Ahmad Ganai’s resignation from the post of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) the position of CIC is lying vacant. In addition to it there was already a vacancy of State Information Commissioner (IC) after Prof S K Sharma completed his term more than 3 years back. When MrKhurshid Ahmad Ganai resigned from the post of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) it surprised everybody. Most of the people who keep a close watch on the political developments in Jammu & Kashmir had a firm belief that MrKhurshidGanai got a better opportunity to serve his state as Advisor to Governor, but when Governor took away several important portfolios like Public Works, Revenue , PHE , Irrigation , Flood Control , Horticulture and Agriculture from him, it surprised and shocked everybody.
Constitution of SIC
Jammu & Kashmir State Information Commission (SIC) is constituted under section 12 of J&K Right to Information Act 2009 (JK RTI Act 2009). On June 29th 2018 SIC became headless after the resignation of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). At present a lone Information Commissioner (IC) MrMohammad Ashraf Mir looks after the affairs of SIC. Under the provisions of section 12 sub section (2), the J&K State Information Commission (SIC) shall consist of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and two Information Commissioners (ICs). When Dr S K Sharma retired as State Information Commissioner in October 2015, PDP-BJP Government failed to fill the vaccancy. After Dr Sharma’s retirement the then Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) MrG R Sufi retired in March 2016. Again Government failed to appoint a new CIC for many months. Finally SIC became completely defunct when another Information Commissioner MrNazir Ahmad retired in November 2016. We took up the matter with the then Chief Minister who invited us for a discussion on January 23rd 2017 and within a month MrKhurshid Ahmad Ganai was appointed as State Chief Information Commissioner on 27th February 2017. There were still two vacancies of Information Commissioners (ICs) when MrGanai was appointed. After hisappointment Government appointed another Commissioner Mr Mohammad Ashraf Mir on October 15th 2017. Mr Mir still continues to hold this post. Right now all the workload of State Information Commission (SIC) is on his shoulders.
Present vacancies in SIC
Presently State Information Commission (SIC) has two vacancies of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and State Information Commissioner (IC). In absence of these positions the commission is technically incomplete. Pertinently State RTI Law says that State Information Commission shall consist of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) & two State Information Commissioners (IC). But as on date our SIC consists of only one Information Commissioner (IC) which means it is not a full-fledged Commission ? On the other hand appeals and complaints are piling at Srinagar / Jammu office of SIC. Information Commissioner (IC) MrMohammad Ashraf Mir is doing the job all alone which is completely injustice as RTI appellants / complainants have to wait for months before their case is listed for hearing.
Recent amendments in RTI law
The decision of State Administrative Council (SAC) to amend J&K RTI Act 2009 was taken in haste. Governor administration should have invited comments and public feedback before going ahead with amendments. The recent amendments was need of the hour and we welcome Governor for going ahead with the changes in RTI Act as there was no provision to constitute SIC in absence of an elected Government.On the other hand there were several other issues in State RTI law that were to be addressed. When State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) or Information Commissioner (IC) completes his or her term in commission, J&K RTI Act 2009 does not guide as to within how many days or months the vacancies will be filled ? In several other laws there is such a provision in the law itself. For example J&K Electricity Act 2010 has a provision of setting up of J&K State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC). The law says that before few months of completion of term of Chairman / Members of SERC a panel would be prepared to fill up the vacancies in SERC. But in case of J&K RTI Act 2009 there is no such mention. State Information Commission (SIC) can remain headless and without any Commissioner for years together as law is silent on the issue. Secondly First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) under RTI Act also should to be penalized when found violating RTI Act.Unfortunately RTI law only has a provision to penalize Public Information Officer (PIO). FAAs who are senior officers take PIOs for-granted. FAAs on many occasions suppress the information and are totally ignorant about their own role as a quasi-judicial authority. Former CIC MrKhurshidGanai has castigated several FAAs (like Superintending Engineers, Directors , Joint Directors, Special Secretaries etc ) on many occasions and he was also in favour of levying penalty on them. I don’t know whether he was consulted during the recent RTI amendments or not ?
Had suggestions been sought by Government before going ahead with amendments, several other changes could also have been made during recent amendment of state RTI law. In absence of an elected Government it is duty of Governor administration to seek a public feedback over issues that concern people especially when there are plans to bring in new laws or amending the existing laws. As JK RTI Act 2009 has been amended, now Governor has the power to appoint new State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and one Information Commissioner (IC). We suggest that a person from Judiciary or academics be given the new assignment of CIC and IC respectively. Before making these appointments let a panel of eminent persons be prepared and a transparent procedure be evolved during the whole selection process…
(The author is Founder & Chairman is Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement )
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat