SIC flouts RTI Act, fails to come up with annual reports during past 3 yrs

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Feb 18: Strange it may sound but it is a fact that State Information Commission (SIC), which is supposed to ensure strict implementation of J&K Right to Information Act, is itself violating the key provision of the transparency law. The Commission has failed to come up with mandatory annual report during the past three years thereby depriving the Legislature of the information about the level of compliance to the law by the Public Authorities.
The J&K Right to Information Act states: The State Information Commission shall, as soon as practicable after the end of each year, prepare a report on the implementation of the provisions of the Act during that year and forward a copy thereof to the Government.
“Each department shall, in relation to the Public Authorities within their jurisdiction, collect and provide such information to the State Information Commission as is required to prepare the report and comply with the requirements concerning the furnishing of that information. The Government may, as soon as practicable after the end of each year, cause a copy of the report of the State Information Commission to be laid before each House of the State Legislature”, the Act further states.
However, the State Information Commission (SIC) has failed to come up with the annual report during the past three years in blatant violation of the explicit provision of the transparency law.
The last annual report was prepared by the SIC for the year 2013-14 and thereafter no such report was submitted to the Government, sources said, adding due to this the Commission, which has been entrusted with the task of ensuring implementation of transparency law in letter and spirit by all the Public Authorities, has itself turned out to be the violator.
“Due to violation of key provision of RTI Act by the Information Commission, the law makers in both the Houses of State Legislature have been deprived of the information about the implementation status of the transparency law”, sources said.
The preparation of annual report is of utmost importance as the same reflects the number of requests made to each Public Authority; the number of decisions where applicants were not entitled to access to the documents pursuant to the requests, the provisions of the Act under which these decisions were made and the number of times such provisions were invoked and the number of appeals referred to the State Information Commission for review, the nature of appeals and the outcome of the appeals.
Moreover, the annual report reveals particulars of any disciplinary action taken against any officer in respect of the administration of the RTI Act; the amount of charges collected by each Public Authority under the Act and recommendations for reform including recommendations in respect of the particular Public Authorities for the development, improvement, modernization, reform or amendment to the Act or other legislation or common law or any other matter relevant for operationalizing the right to access information.
“This reveals how much vital information could not be shared with the Legislators by the State Information Commission by not coming up with annual reports during the past three years”, sources said.
“Moreover, it is only through the annual report that the Commission comes to know that the practice of a Public Authority in relation to the exercise of its functions under the RTI Act doesn’t conform with the provisions or spirit of the Act and accordingly it may give to the particular Public Authority a recommendation specifying the steps which ought in its opinion to be taken for promoting such conformity”, sources further said.
According to the sources in the State Information Commission, non-cooperation from the Government departments was the major reason behind non-preparation of annual reports during the past three years.
“The departments are not coming up with the requisite information despite repeated communications from the Information Commission”, they said, adding “even the General Administration Department has been approached in this regard a number of times but the situation has remained unchanged”.