Don't make mockery of RTI Law

Early this year a high-level selection committee headed by Advisor to J&K Governor Mr K Vijay Kumar recommended the name of Additional Director General of Police (ADG law & order) Mr Muneer Ahmad Khan for the post of Information Commissioner in the State Information Commission (SIC).  A formal notification was issued by General Administration Department (GAD) on behalf of Governor Satya Pal Malik on 2.03.2019. It was understood that Mr Khan would assume the office of Information Commissioner as soon as notification was issued, but he preferred to continue as ADGP (Law & Order). It was then assumed he would take up SIC’s assignment from July 1st 2019 in view of his retirement on June 30th 2019. But the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) extended his service by another one year vide an order Dated 30th June 2019.

Will State Information Commission again be made to wait for 1 more year till Mr Muneer Khan completes one year extension of his service?

As  a campaigner for Right to Information law there are some issues which Government needs to clarify vis a vis appointment of two Information Commissioners. The absence of two Commissioners in SIC which includes its Chief is making this institution redundant. Citizens of the state are suffering a lot because all the workload in State Information Commission is being thrust on a single Information Commissioner.

Constitution of SIC

J&K State Information Commission (JKSIC) is constituted under section 12 of JK RTI Act 2009. The Commission became headless soon after Mr Khurshid Ahmad Ganai resigned from the post of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) on June 29th 2018. At present one single Information Commissioner (IC) Mr Mohammad Ashraf Mir looks after the affairs of SIC. Under the provisions of section 12 sub section (2) , the J&K State Information Commission (SIC) shall consist of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and two Information Commissioners (ICs). When Dr (Prof)  S K Sharma (Former Jammu University Professor) completed his term  as State Information Commissioner in October 2015, Government failed to fill that gap. After Prof Sharma’s retirement,  Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Mr G R Sufi completed his 5 year term as CIC  in March 2016. Again Government failed to appoint a new CIC for many months. Finally the SIC became completely defunct when Information Commissioner Mr Nazir Ahmad completed his tenure in SIC in November 2016. After 4 months PDP-BJP Government appointed  Mr Khurshid Ahmad Ganai a retired IAS officer as State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) on 27th  February 2017. After his appointment Government appointed another Commissioner Mr Mohammad Ashraf Mir (Former Law Secretary) on October 15th 2017. Third Commissioner’s position was never filled. It continues to be vacant from October 2015 when Prof Sharma completed his term as Information Commission.  .

Appointment of CIC and ICs ?

As per section 12, sub section 3 of J&K RTI Act 2009 State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and State Information Commissioners (ICs) shall be appointed by Governor on the recommendation of the committee consisting of

a)            Chief Minister who shall be the Chairperson of the committee

b)            The leader of opposition in legislative assembly  and

c)            A cabinet Minister nominated by Chief Minister.

In case where leader of opposition in legislative assembly has not been recognized the leader of single largest group in the opposition in legislative assembly shall be deemed to be leader of opposition.

As J&K State was put under Governor rule with effect from June 19th 2018 the powers vested with CM were exercised by the Governor for 6 months until state was put under President’s Rule. Further to address technicalities in appointing members of State Information Commission (SIC) , the State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Governor Mr Satya Pal Malik on November 22nd 2018 , approved J&K RTI Act (Amendment) Bill 2018. The amendment now facilitates appointment of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and State Information Commissioners (IC) during the Governor’s or Presidents Rule as well.

Conclusion

The J&K State Information Commission (SIC) has two vacancies of State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and one Information Commissioner (IC).  In view of the new development Mr Muneer Khan has been given service extension of 1 year. Will the post of Information Commissioner remain again remain vacant for next 1 year ? Will Government again wait for Mr Muneer Khan to complete his 1 year extension term and then post him as Information Commissioner ? I would suggest Government must find an alternative. We lost 4 precious months after Mr Khan’s appointment as Information Commissioner as he did not join Information Commission soon after his appointment order was issued in March 2019. It is the right time to appoint both Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioner. It is an irony that selection of commissioners for a transparency institute is not carried in a transparent manner? It is nowhere written in RTI law that only bureaucrats and police officers can be appointed as Commissioners . Why not give a chance to eminent person from Judiciary ,  academics , journalism or civil society ? JK RTI Act 2009 has enough scope for the same . I would also suggest that Government must invite open applications for these positions as is done in case of appointments in Central Information Commission and Information Commissions in other countries.