The following article appears at the top of Page 10 in the 9 Dec. 2010 edition of Greater Kashmir:
J&K RTI Movement delegation meets Vohra, discusses concerns about selection of information commissioners
Jammu, Dec 8: A delegation of RTI activists from J&K RTI Movement (JKRTIM) met the governor N N Vohra on Wednesday to discuss the selection of State Information Commissioners and other RTI related matters such as the recent attacks on RTI activists in the state.
The activists included Balvinder Singh (who’s also the convenor of Sangarsh RTI Movement), Ayaz Mughal and Raman Sharma from J&K RTI Movement and Advocate Nadeem Qadri. The activists presented to the governor JKRTIM’s recommendations about the selection process for the State Information Commission.
The meeting’s core theme was that there is an urgent need for a well-defined, transparent and democratic process for identifying the best candidates for the State information commission.
During the meeting, the delegation rued the inordinate delay in the constitution of the State Information Commission. The members of the delegation emphasized on transparency in the selection process and described how opaque selection processes had led to the selection of weak and ineffective information commissions in several states.
The members of the delegation also discussed several other important RTI related issues with the governor including the recent spate of attacks on some RTI activists of the state. They voiced concern on these developments and requested the governor to take up the matter with authorities at the highest level. These developments, they said, set a dangerous precedent and if immediate steps are not taken to prevent these attacks, the empowerment RTI promises to bring might be seriously jeopardized.
During the course of the discussion, the delegation members also brought to light some other RTI related issues. They pointed out that the state government has done little to promote awareness on RTI inspite of the fact that the J&K Right to Information act requires the government departments to organize such activities regularly. The members also stressed on the need to organize training programmes for the PIOs of various departments.
The governor on his part extended his full support to the cause of promoting transparency and accountability in administration. He assured the members of the delegation that a vibrant and effective Information Commission will be in place soon.
Balvinder Singh, Ayaz Mughal and Raman Sharma presented to the governor a set of recommendations for the appointment of the Information Commissioners. Key recommendations include the soliciting of non-bureaucratic nominations from the public; the holding of a public hearing so that citizens can voice their expectations of the commissioners, the release of a shortlist of candidates; the disclosure of a well-defined timeframe for making the appointments; decision-making only by unanimous agreement; and the release of justifications for the Selection Committee’s final decisions.
The delegation members expressed concern over reports in the media that raise doubts about the fairness and transparency of the selection process. They pointed out that Information Commission is supposed to be a transparency watchdog and if appointments to the commission are not unbiased and transparent there is little hope that anything else will be. It is important to ensure that appointments to the commission are not a mere means to reward favoured ex- bureaucrats with post retirement placements. Any such attempt would be disastrous for the future of RTI in J&K.
The activists pointed out that there are plenty of jurists, academicians, journalists, and retired bureaucrats from non-J&K cadres who could serve on the State Information Commission. The governor assured the delegation that the selection process would be fair and transparent and the much awaited meeting of the selection committee will be held soon. Effective implementation of the J&K RTI act, he said, will empower the people of the state and it is our moral duty to ensure that this is brought about forthwith.