September floods; you know!

Greater Kashmir

Now they say the records were damaged in floods; easy way to circumvent RTI

The Public Authorities in Jammu & Kashmir – Government, semi Government, and public sector organisations, especially those headquartered  in Srinagar city – are now  using September 2014 floods  as an excuse to share official  information.  Many RTI related cases have landed in J&K State Information Commission (SIC) from the last couple of months and the officials, especially the Public Information Officers (PIOs) while recording their statement before the commission have said that their official records have  been destroyed during the recent floods.
J&K Agro Industries Corporation: 
J&K Agro Industries Developmental Corporation is a public sector undertaking which operates under the administrative control of Industries Department. The said corporation denied to provide a part of information sought by an applicant under J&K RTI Act 2009.  It is pertinent to mention that the information seeker sought the  information from Agro Industries Corporation more than eight months back.  According to information available, a 2nd  appeal was filed by  one R.K. Bhan, before  the State Information Commission (SIC) on 3.7.2014 against the inaction of PIO and First Appellate Authority (FAA ) of the said corporation in providing him the required information. The case was heard by SIC  from time to time and ultimately final hearing was fixed on April 17th 2014 wherein M. M. Ghani, Divisional Manager-cum-FAA, and  Sham Lal Sharma, Liaison Officer-cum-PIO attended.
The  appellant R K Bhan who hails from Sarwal Jammu had filed an RTI application on 10.3.2014 seeking certain information from the Agro Industries  Corporation. PIO Passed an order on 9.4.2014 and  provided part information to the information seeker. Appellant not being satisfied with the order of the PIO filed first appeal before the First Appellate Authority (FAA)  on 12.4.2014. When Mr Bhan was aggrieved with the failure of First Appellate Authority (FAA)  to pass an order, appellant filed second appeal before State Information  Commission (SIC) on 3.7.2014 requesting for enabling  him to get the requisite information from the concerned public authority at an earliest. The Commission passed interim directions to the PIO and FAA to appear on the next date of hearing. It was mentioned in the interim directions that the Commission will issue summons under Section 15 of the J&K RTI Act 2009. As per the details available the PIO had denied the information on some  points mentioned in the  RTI application on the plea that it was  not available  being an old record. Information Seeker submitted  that the information sought was already provided to the Hon’ble High Court at Jammu under Statement of Facts on 15.2.2014.

Information Commission Order:
While issuing the orders the State Information (SIC) on November 11th 2014 said that PIO is directed to go through the copy of statement of facts and explain to the Commission why the information which was available on the date of passing order was not given to the information seeker. The SIC even issued penalty show cause notice against the PIO Agro Industries Corporation, under section 17 of JK RTI Act 2009. Pertinent to mention that PIO in his written statement submitted before SIC has said that corporation office at Lal Mandi was “submerged in flood waters so the entire official records got  destroyed”. But we all know that floods engulfed Srinagar in September 2014 and the RTI application was filed by Mr Bhan in March 2014 , why it took Agro Industries Corporation  six long months to provide the information to the RTI applicant instead of providing the same within stipulated time of 30 days ?
It is not the case of only J&K Agro Industries Corporation which claims that its official records have been destroyed during floods. The J&K Public Service Commission (PSC) also denied information under RTI Act to one Dr Munaza Aman on the same pretext. The PSC officials appeared before SIC when the order was challenged by Dr Munaza before the said commission. PIO of Public Service Commission (PSC)  stated that their official records have been destroyed so can’t provide information to Dr Munaza (RTI applicant).