From Pages 1 & 6 of the 24 Dec. 2010 edition of Greater Kashmir:
Constituted In Oct 2009 Commission Continues To Be Headless
Srinagar, Dec 23: While the State Information Commission continues to remain headless and virtually defunct, the establishment of its offices in Srinagar and Jammu has come at a heavy price: Rs 87 lakhs in 14 months.
The expenditure-related information has come to fore through a Right to Information application moved by the J&K RTI Movement, a non-governmental organization.
The SIC was constituted on October 19, 2009 vide SRO 235 in a bid to strengthen the Right to Information Act 2005 and ensure easy facilitation of RTI applications.
Following its constitution, an IAS officer named Gazanfar Hussain was appointed as its first secretary, though on in-charge basis while then Chief Central Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habullah, was nominated as the first Chief Information Commissioner of Jammu and Kashmir by the Governor NN Vohra. While Wajahat had to withdraw four months later, the SIC continues to remain headless, defeating the very purpose of its establishment.
In the past 14 months, the Commission established offices at the Old Assembly Complex in Srinagar, and also rented space in Trikuta Nagar, Jammu. Both offices have remained open, since it has been assumed that the 3-member SIC will follow the High Court pattern wherein the CIC follows the Darbar while one Commissioner remains in Jammu and the other in Srinagar.
The Commission also established its website (www.jksic.nic.in) through NIC, and has established modalities for videoconferencing with NIC facilities in the districts once it begins hearings.
The Right to Information has revealed that the state government has so far spent nearly 83 lakh rupees on the upkeep of the SIC offices.
The application, seeking answer to expenditure on the functioning of SIC offices in Jammu and Srinagar, was mooted by the J&K RTI Movement activist Raman Sharma.
According to the information sought under the RTI, in the fiscal year 2009-10, Rs. 21.29 lakhs were spent on salaries while Rs. 53.62 lakhs were spent in the 2010-2011 fiscal till October on the same.
Rs. 2.16 lakhs have been spent on telephone and Internet bills, Rs. 2.50 lakhs for Darbar expenses, Rs. 2.53 lakhs for fuel, and a further Rs. 1.09 lakh on computers, stationery and other miscellaneous items.
Other expenses have been borne directly by the Estates Department and Motor Garages, which are not included in the figures.
“It’s unfortunate. The absence of Information Commissioners makes it very difficult to ensure a thorough implementation of the Right to Information Act in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Raman Sharma.
“The J&K RTI Act is a very strong law. It seeks to empower people by making the administration accountable to them. Unfortunately, the authorities haven’t displayed the required sincerity in bringing this about. The State Information Commission is presently defunct and the taxpayers’ money being spent in its upkeep is simply going down the drain,” he said.
Another RTI activist Ayaz Mughal remarked, “J&K SIC is an expensive column structure without walls and roof which is risky by all means.”
The RTI Movement believes that the SIC should be constituted as early as possible. “We recently met the Governor NN Vohra and apprised him about the need to have a strong and efficient SIC in place. If that is not done, the establishment of offices won’t serve any purpose. It is just wastage of money,” Raman told Greater Kashmir.