All second appeals and complaints pending with the Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission under the erstwhile state’s Right to Information (RTI) Act will be dealt with by the Central Information Commission (CIC), according to official documents.
The move comes as Jammu and Kashmir state was divided into two union territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh with effect from October 31, 2019.
A large number of applications and appeals filed under the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act, 2009, would have been pending on the date of bifurcation.
Since the two new UTs were formed, citizens and transparency activists have been approaching RTI advocates and officials concerned seeking clarity on disposal of their applications, and first appeals pending before various public authorities and the second appeals and complaints pending before the State Information Commission.
Under the Central RTI Act, UTs do not have power to establish and constitute Information Commissions, activists say.
Official documents accessed through the RTI Act by transparency activist Venkatesh Nayak reveal that the Union Ministry of Personnel had on October 15, 2019, written to the CIC mentioning the steps needed for transition from the J-K RTI Act 2009 to the Centre’s RTI Act, 2005.
All appeals and complaints pending before the JK Information Commission were to be transferred to the CIC, according to the Personnel Ministry action plan shared with the CIC.
The transparency watchdog was asked to examine these steps and offer its comments including suitable nomenclature of officers responsible for dealing with the RTI applications besides resolution of first appeals, second appeals and complaints pending there.
The CIC in its meeting held on October 25, 2019 agreed to all the suggestions given by the Personnel Ministry and recommended that “due seniority be given to second appeals/complaints pending with the Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission”.
Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir General Administration Department on October 29, 2019, formed a five-member committee to examine issues related to the state RTI Act, a move the social activists said was “aimed at delaying the smooth transition”.
The panel, under the administrative secretary of the General Administration Department, has been mandated to examine whether the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir will come under the purview of CIC or a separate commission has to be constituted for the purpose.
It will also spell out the actions required to be taken like re-designation of Public Information Officers under the JK RTI Act, “in case the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir comes under Central information Commission”.
“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. There was no need to set up a committee to examine this issue,” said Nayak, head of access to information programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an NGO.
He said the JK GAD babus could have simply put up a note on this topic and approved what the Personnel Ministry had drafted and sent to the CIC, which has approved it too.
“All other actions for ensuring smooth transition have been outlined in the Personnel Ministry’s communiqu mentioning the action plan. There was no need for a further examination of any issue, Nayak said.