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Delaying tactic? Panel set up to 'examine' how to implement RTI in UT of J&K

By Our Representative
In a surprising move, the newly-created Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), despite having lost its special status, and the Government of India (GoI) claim that its citizens have "equal rights" as those enjoyed by others in the country, has begun a parallel process of examining the Central Right to Information (RTI) Act's applicability to the UT.
Calling this a delay tactic to implement RTI Act in J&K, Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), New Delhi, has said that the transition process would have gone smoothly "but for the spanner in the works thrown by J&K General Administration Department (GAD)."
In an email alert, Nayak says, he made an RTI application to the Departmrnt of Personnel and Training (DoPT), GoI, which said, "I am unable to submit this RTI application directly to the concerned public authority in J&K because this RTI Online Facility has not been extended to the UT administration, and also because postal services continue to remain disrupted in the UT."
Nayak's plea follows the J&K RTI Movement, led by Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, as also other private citizens, activists, mediapersons, lawyers and students, wanting to know the status of the RTI Act in J&K after the the state lost its special status and its bifurcation, which automatically led to the dissolution of the J&K RTI Act and the State Information Commission (SIC).
Asserting that since there is "no official statement" from the GoI or the UT administration on this, Nayak says, he submitted an RTI application to the DoPT on October 31, 2019, the day the state ceased to exist, wanting to know the total number of appeals and complaints pending before the erstwhile SIC and their fate.
He also sought photocopies of "all correspondence and file notings containing details of action taken to ensure that the appeals and complaints are transferred to a competent authority for disposal", as also of communication between the Central Information and the erstwhile SIC regarding this.
"Strangely", says Nayak, "Despite having initiated action on planning and coordinating the transition from the State's RTI Act (now repealed) to the Central RTI Act, the DoPT elected to transfer the RTI application to the Union Minstry of Home Affairs (MHA) and CIC)." As for MHA, it "transferred the RTI application to the UT of J&K."
Meanwhile, CIC sent "copies of official records and file notings which reveal details of the action taken by DoPT to ensure a smooth transition from the state's RTI regime to the Central RTI regime as applicable to the twin UTs (J&K and Ladakh), including notifying that all public authorities under the erstwhile State RTI Act as public authorities under the Central Act."
But, says Nayak, "The mandarins in JK-GAD have had other ideas. On November 28, JK-GAD constituted a five-member committee under the Chairmanship of its Administrative Secretary to examine this transition issue all over again."
A government order on this says the terms of reference (ToR) of the committee include examining whether the UT of J&K will come under the purview of CIC or a separate UT may be constituted for the state, and to spell out actions required to be taken to redesignate public information officers (PIOs), and whether the UT of J&K comes under CIC's purview.
According to Nayak, "A plain reading of Sections 12-17 of the Central RTI Act will reveal to any right-thinking person that UTs do not have the power to establish and constitute Information Commissions. Only the Centre and full-fledged states can set up such bodies."
He adds, "There was no need to set up a committee to examine this issue in J&K all over again. The J&K-GAD babus could have simply put up a note on this topic and approved what the DoPT had drafted as an action plan after consultation with the CIC."
Nayak notes, "J&K-GAD's action of setting up the five-member committee will only delay the smooth transition for no good reason. All that JK-GAD had to do was draw up a road-map with dates for making the smooth transition as per DoPT's recommendations. Instead bureaucratic red tape is likely to delay the transition process."
He adds, "Pending RTI applications and first appeals will remain that way before the public authorities while the JK-GAD committee deliberates on issues drawn up in its ToR. The files containing pending second appeals and complaints at the State Information will gather dust waiting to be transferred from J&K to the CIC in Delhi until the Committee make its recommendations and the UT administration acts on it."

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