Why BDOs conceal Information ?

I have been following and analyzing orders of State Information Commission (SIC) from last many years.  Most of the penalty show cause notices have been issued in favour of officials of Rural Development Department (RDD) especially the Block Development Officers (BDOs).

Recently State Information Commissioner Mohammad Ashraf Mir made very serious remarks against the officials of Rural Development Department (RDD). Information Commissioner in an order said that Block Development Officers and Assistant Commissioners Development (ACDs) are reluctant to submit themselves to RTI law.

The order reads “these officers have not so far shunned the old mindset of secrecy and opacity and treat the RTI requests as a challenge to their power and authority and such attitude only reinforces the belief that these officers have something to hide and therefore, not comfortable with transparency and openness “

Information Commissioner made these remarks after a BDO  denied information under RTI Act to a citizen who intended to seek details about amount spend on various centrally sponsored in Udhayanpur bock of Doda district. When the said BDO who is also the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) was issued penalty show cause notice, he  chose not to respond to it. 

State Information Commission has now given the BDO Udhayanpur Doda  last opportunity of explaining why penalty to the tune of Rs 25000 be not imposed upon him for denying information.

The Commission also advised Secretary to Government Rural Development Department to initiate disciplinary proceedings under relevant Service Rules against the officer

BDO / ACD Rajouri

In another case State Information Commission (SIC) issued a penalty notice against Assistant Commissioner Development (ACD) Rajouri and the Block Development Officer (BDO) for violating the provisions of J&K RTI Act 2009 as an RTI applicant was asked to pay exorbitant Xerox fees of Rs 25000.

An RTI application was filed Advocate Ishfaq Bukhari before the ACD Rajouri on 08.05.2018 who forwarded the same to BDO Rajouri and subsequently application was sent to Secretary halqa Panchayat also called VLW.

The official in order to discourage information seeker asked him to pay Rs 25,000. Information seeker knocked the doors of State Information Commission (SIC). Commission on April 5th 2019 in its order said that Secretary Halqa Panchayat is not a designated PIO and the transfer of the RTI application by the PIO (BDO) to Secretary, Panchayat is abuse of the provisions of the RTI law. The order further reads :

“The aversion to transparency and openness on the part of the officers of the Rural Development Department reinforces the wildly held belief that these officers hide information because the works shown to have been executed on papers do not actually exist on ground and most of the BDOs draw money from the State Exchequer for non-existent works. A prima facie case is established against ACD Rajouri and BDO, Rajouri for initiating penalty proceedings against them “

Conclusion

This is unfortunate that in spite of 10 years of enactment of J&K RTI Act 2009, the Rural Development Department (RDD) is yet to digitize its official record and information instead of being made available on official websites is concealed.

This is violation of  section 4 of RTI law as Government is under legal obligation to make voluntary disclosure of  information. Do BDO offices not maintain soft copy of the information about developmental works (NREGS etc) in their computers ? Can’t they ask RTI applicants to go for inspection of documents as mandated under RTI law ? A massive social audit of RDD needs to be taken up.

Our PIL on proactive disclosure of information and digitization of record has been disposed off by JK High Court few months back but Govt has disrespected said order. We are now mulling contempt of court proceedings in the upcoming days….

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Chairman JK RTI Movement