SIC initiates penalty proceedings against ACD, 2 BDOs, Secy JMC

Utter disregard for provisions of J&K RTI Act
Takes serious note of lack of cooperation from Govt servants

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Apr 19: Taking serious note of utter disregard for the provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act and lack of cooperation from the Government servants in implementation of transparency law, State Information Commission has initiated penalty proceedings against Assistant Commissioner Development, two Block Development Officers and Secretary of the Jammu Municipal Corporation.
As per the official information, Rural Development Department has nominated Block Development Officers (BDOs) as the Public Information Officers (PIOs) for their respective blocks for the implementation of J&K Right to Information Act.
However, the BDO Rajouri on the receipt of RTI application transferred the same to the Secretary Panchayat concerned for furnishing information to the applicant despite being aware of the fact that the latter is not designated as PIO. However, despite this no information was furnished to the applicant which led to filing of Ist Appeal before the Assistant Commissioner Development Rajouri (First Appellate Authority) and then 2nd Appeal before the Information Commission.
“The conduct of the First Appellate Authority/Assistant Commissioner Development Rajouri and PIO/BDO Rajouri is highly objectionable to say the least”, the Information Commissioner Mohammad Ashraf Mir has observed in the final order, adding “these officers have tried every trick to discourage the appellant from seeking access to the information”.
Stating that transfer of RTI application by the BDO to Secretary Panchayat was abuse of the provisions of the J&K RTI Act, the Commission said, “by doing so, the BDO has simply shifted the responsibility”, adding “moreover, the demand of photostat charges by the Secretary Panchayat without counting the number of pages of information is outrageous and illogical besides being beyond his competence and authority”.
Mentioning that role of Assistant Commissioner Development Rajouri was also irresponsible, the Information Commissioner said, “the ACD has not decided and disposed of the Ist Appeal in the appropriate manner. Instead, he too directed the appellant to deposit the photocopy charges as demanded by Secretary Panchayat without calculating the fee in accordance with the provisions of RTI Act and the Rules”, adding “apart from denying information to the appellant without any justification, the ACD and BDO refused to cooperate with the Commission in deciding this appeal as both officers chose not to attend the meetings in the Commission”.
As a prima-facie case was established against the ACD Rajouri and BDO Rajouri for initiation of penalty proceedings against them, the Commission has directed them to explain as to why penalties as envisaged under Section 17 of the J&K RTI Act shall not be imposed upon them for violating the provisions of the transparency law. Both the officers have been served notices by the Registry of the Commission in this regard.
In another case, the Information Commission has issued show cause notice to Block Development Officer Dali Udhayanpur Doda directing him to explain as to why penalties as envisaged under Section 17 of the Act may not be imposed upon him for denying opportunity of inspection of records to appellant in-spite of the directions issued by the Commission.
The applicant had sought information vis-a-vis total payments made for certain developmental works and material used in such works etc. “The denial of opportunity of inspection of records to appellant by BDO amounts to denial of information as well non-compliance of the orders passed by the Commission”, the Information Commissioner said, adding “the BDO even didn’t attend the hearings held by the Commission, which clearly indicates that PIO is not comfortable with transparency and accountability”.
As per the third case of similar nature, an application was filed with the Secretary, Jammu Municipal Corporation/PIO seeking information regarding the Palm Riviera Housing Project at Sidhra. However, only part information was provided to the applicant and this led to filing of Ist and then 2nd Appeals.
During the course of proceedings under 2nd Appeal, the Information Commission had directed the PIO to collect information from different sections of the JMC and after consolidating the same furnish to the appellant. “The information seeker is not supposed to knock at different doors of the same Public Authority to obtain information”, the Commission had mentioned in the interim order.
In the final decision, the Information Commissioner has observed, “the PIO/Secretary JMC has not only failed to file compliance report but also chose not to attend the hearings before the Commission and this attitude is not acceptable”, adding “the PIO has shown utter disregard for the provisions of the J&K Right to Information Act, 2009 and also for the directions issued by the Commission”.
Holding the PIO liable to penalties under Section 17 of the J&K RTI Act, the Commission has issued show cause notice to PIO seeking explanation before imposition of penalties.