Official apathy impairs SIC functioning
Consensus Eludes Coalition On Information Commissioners
Srinagar, July 20: Failure of the Jammu and Kashmir Government to appoint two Information Commissioners for the State Information Commission (SIC) has raised a question mark over its commitment to ensure effective implementation of the Right to Information Act of 2009.
Informed sources disclosed to Greater Kashmir that SIC functioning has been drastically hit in the absence of two Commissioners. “This time the Commission is being solely manned by the Chief Information Commissioner G R Sufi who has to look after the administrative affairs, awareness sector and also the disposal of complaints and appeals. It is just not possible for one person to look after everything, especially when the Act is picking up fast,” said a source in the SIC.
While Sufi is understood to be focusing on time-bound disposal of complaints and appeals, the decisions on imposing penalty on the defaulting Public Information Officers are awaiting final call. So far the Commission has imposed penalty against one PIO.
In response to an RTI application, the SIC has revealed that at least 50 cases of penalties are pending decision, though in many cases the defaulting PIOs have responded to the show-cause notices being issued to them. “The first priority of the Commission is to address the complaints and appeals because there is a time limit within which penalties are to be imposed. But if the Information Commissioners were available, the full Commission could take a call on penalties after giving due consideration to the response to the show-cause notices,” the sources said. “But since it is only one person manning the commission, it is literally impossible for him to look after everything. The distribution of work is essential in any organization, especially where public dealings are picking up.”
The inordinate delay in appointing the two Information Commissioners has raised many questions. “The Coalition Government just doesn’t seem to be interested in appointing the two officers. This shows lack of commitment to the implementation of the RTI Act,” said an RTI activist. “It has been over two years since the Act has been implemented in the State, but the Commission is awaiting the two Commissioners since then, which only reflects the Government’s lack of concern towards the institution.”
According to sources, the NC and Congress are yet to evolve consensus on the names being considered for the coveted posts of Information Commissioners. “Politics has marred the appointment of two commissioners. It is just a day’s job to hold the selection committee meeting. But since everything in Jammu and Kashmir is driven by politics and coalition compulsions, the same has happened with the appointment of Information Commissioners,” said a senior government officer, insisting not to be named. “It is better if the coalition partners rise above political considerations and ensure smooth functioning of SIC. That would certainly be in the interest of people who are desirous of having information under the RTI Act of 2009.”
While the General Administration Department had fixed the meet on July 18 to appointment two Information Commissioners, it was postponed in the wake of reports that consensus eluded the coalition partners over the names being considered as Information Commissioners.
Pertinently the government recommended GR Sufi as the first Chief Information Commissioner in January this year. Immediately after, the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah went on record saying that the two Commissioners “would be appointed before the start of the Budget Session in Jammu.” While the session ended many months back, the state government is yet to keep its word.
The sources said it would not be possible for the CIC to handle all the RTI applications “which are piling up in the SIC offices in Srinagar and Jammu.” “The Act has started picking up in the state. We are receiving a good number of applications now. For their quick disposal, it is important to have the Information Commissioners in place,” they said. “Otherwise it won’t be possible to address all the complaints and applications in time. That would naturally mar the essence of the legislation which makes disclosure of information and redress of complaints must in a time-bound manner.”
As per the RTI Act, the Chief Information Commissioner and the State Information Commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor on the recommendations of a selection committee to be headed by the Chief Minister and consisting of the Leader of Opposition and a cabinet minister nominated by the Chief Minister.
“The Information Commissioners shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance,” the legislation states.
The CIC, GR Sufi, minces no words in acknowledging that the Commission is handicapped.
“The Commission is certainly handicapped in the absence of Information Commissioners. I am handling all affairs single-handedly. If I devote my attention to penalties, then the appeals and complaints, which are to be disposed off in a time-bound manner, won’t be disposed. Initially my aim is to see that information is disseminated as per the law,” he told Greater Kashmir.
He said the penalties have not been dropped as the Act allows the Commission to impose penalties at any time. “The ruling parties in Jammu and Kashmir must make the Commission complete so that the division of labour takes place and the Commission doesn’t anyway feel handicapped,” Sufi said.
Lastupdate on : Wed, 20 Jul 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 20 Jul 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 21 Jul 2011 00:00:00 IST
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