Monday, July 04, 2016

J&K govt "hampering" implementation of state RTI Act, refusing to fill up state information commission posts

By Our Representative
In a letter to Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission, has taken strong objection to the manner in which the state government is neglecting J&K Right to Information Act by allowing the State Information Commission (SIC) to continue functioning with just one state information commission.
Habibullah's letter to Mufti, dated July 4, comes following several local representations to the J&K chief minister about SIC being without any chief information commissioner (CIC) and a second information commissioner (IC) after the posts fell vacant in February 2016 and October 2015 respectively. 
One such representations said, even GR Sufi, who retired as State Chief Information Commissioner, said RTI in J&K would “die its own death” if SIC is not constituted as part the J&K Right to Information Act.
Habibullah says, “Appeals and complaints are accumulating before the commission due to these vacancies, which arose when the State was under Governor's rule.”
Saying that this is “hampering the Commission's ability to dispose of cases in a time bound manner, as required by the Act”, Habibullah, who is currently chairperson of the Commonweath Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a Delhi-based advocacy group, notes, “If the Commission is not able to dispose of people's grievances regarding access to information in a timely manner, there is a real danger that they might lose faith in the commission, and in the Act.”
Asking Mufti, who is chairperson of the three-member committee that recommends names of suitable candidates for appointment to the JKSIC to the Governor, to “initiate the process of identifying candidates for filling up the vacancies, Habibullah says, “Adopting a participatory process in the selection process will demonstrate your government's commitment to select the most qualified and deserving candidates for appointment in a transparent manner.”
The letter also takes objection to refusal to review the manner in which the comprehensive RTI Rules, notified by the State Government in 2010, were replaced by a shorter set of rules in 2012. It said, the 2012 rules adopted a “minimalistic approach to rule-making” leading to “confusion” implementation of the J&K RTI Act.
Thus, the letter says, the 2010 Rules “provided guidance about the rank at which a Public Information Officer may be appointed in every public authority”, with a “detailed procedure for the disposal of first appeals within a public authority”, adding, “These provisions are missing in the RTI Rules notified in 2012.”
The letter asks the chief minister to set up a “committee comprising of representatives of all stakeholders such as government, civil society actors and the JKSIC to re-examine the current set of RTI Rules as well as the Rules notified in 2010 and strengthen the procedures for implementing the J&K RTI Act.”
The letter reminds the J&K RTI Act that the government should conduct awareness raising programmes for the people of J&K about their rights for seeking and obtaining information with particular emphasis on disadvantaged segments of society. “A good way of spreading awareness about RTI would be to incorporate it as a subject matter in school and college text books”, the letter insists.

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