No end to hurdles in ensuring transparency in Govt deptts
FAAs too not showing interest in implementation of RTI Act
JAMMU, Feb 19: Taking serious note of violation of provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act and defiance of its orders, the State Information Commission has initiated penalty proceedings against two Executive Engineers (XEns) of Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) and Fisheries Department. This has once again brought to the fore that in many Government departments hurdles are still being created in ensuring transparency and openness.
As per the case before the State Information Commission, in the month of February 2017 an advocate filed RTI application seeking information relating to Shajroo to Chakrass road in Mahore area of Reasi district from the Executive Engineer PMGSY-cum-Public Information Officer.
After being denied information by the PIO, the applicant approached the Chief Engineer PMGSY Jammu for being First Appellate Authority in the month April 2018. The Chief Engineer took more than one month to simply convey to the appellant that requisite information was available on the departmental website.
However, the information was not found available on the website by the appellant which compelled him to file Second Appeal before the Information Commission. Despite being given enough opportunity, the respondents chose not to appear before the Commission and even the Executive Engineer (PIO) failed to file counter statement in the appeal.
“The PIO has not only failed to provide information to the appellant within the period specified under Section 7(1) of the J&K RTI Act but has also failed to appear on consecutive hearings before the Commission inspite of notices sent in this regard”, the Commission has observed in the final decision, adding “the attitude of the PIO appears to be one of defiance”.
The Commission further observed: “By not providing information to the appellant within the specified period, PIO has become subject to imposition of penalties as envisaged under Section 17 of the J&K RTI Act, 2009. However, before imposing the penalties upon the PIO, he is required to be given an opportunity of defending himself”.
While disposing of the appeal with a direction to the PIO to furnish complete information as sought by the appellant within a period of two weeks from the date of receipt of the order, the State Information Commissioner Mohammad Ashraf Mir has directed the Registry to issue a show cause notice to the Executive Engineer PMGSY Mahore asking him to explain as to why the penalties shall not be imposed upon him for denial of information to the appellant.
As per the second case before the Commission, an RTI application was filed before the Executive Engineer Fisheries Department Jammu seeking information on eight different points. However, neither PIO nor First Appellate Authority (Superintending Engineer) furnished information to the appellant which led to filing of Second Appeal before the Commission.
On the initial date of hearing, the Commission directed the PIO to furnish complete information to the appellant within a period of two weeks but the order of the Commission was not taken seriously by the Executive Engineer.
Taking serious view of the non-appearance of the PIO and his failure to furnish information to the appellant even after its directions, the Commission in its final order observed, “the attitude of the PIO indicates that he is averse to transparency and openness. By not furnishing information to the appellant within the period specified in Section 7(1) of the J&K RTI Act and also by his non-appearance before the Commission, the PIO/Executive Engineer has violated the provisions of the transparency law”.
It is pertinent to mention here that in terms of Section 7(2) of the RTI Act, if a PIO fails to furnish information within the specified period, it is to be deemed that the PIO has refused the request for information.
“By refusing information to the appellant within the specified period and also by not complying with the directions issued by the Commission, the PIO has become subject to penalties as such a prima-facie case for proceeding against the Executive Engineer is made out”, the State Information Commissioner said.
He has directed the Registry to issue a show cause notice to the Executive Engineer asking him to explain why penalties shall not be imposed upon him.
Both these cases have made it clear that there is no end to hurdles in ensuring transparency in the functioning of Government departments and even First Appellate Authorities are not showing seriousness in implementation of transparency law.