A tree grows well when it is nourished from the day first. The best quality seeds sown in the best fertile land with sufficient water and manure and protected from the adverse climatic conditions shall produce the sweet fruit. But what use is of a tree if does not produce what is expected and is laden with burden of the rotten fruits only.
Likewise, any law or act is worthless if it does not produce the expected results. It turns out to be a limbless law which pleases the handful of people at the helm of affairs and the purpose of the larger population is hardly served. Right to Information Act 2009, after the lapse of about two and a half year is still to be implemented in letter and spirit. First, it remained a headless body for about seven years since it was first passed in 2004. In December 2010, a deputation of RTI activists including myself met J-K Governor N N Vohra and the leader of opposition Mehbooba Mufti seeking the appointment of the long pending posts of State Chief Information Commissioner with two Information Commissioners. Mufti said that she would be present in the next meeting of the selection panel, which she didn’t attend twice due to some reasons.
In January, the deputation met Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and convinced him to fix a date for the selection of CIC and two ICs. On January, 27 this year, the meeting of selection panel recommended the name of G.R.Sufi, who was serving as Chief Commissioner Income Tax as the first Chief Information Commissioner of the state. Sufi as the first CIC of the state was a ray of hope for RTI users. Before him the Public Information Officers posted at the commission were using peculiar tactics to discourage the RTI users in the state. Delay in reply and refusal of genuine information was the order of the day.
In some cases the RTI users had to face harassment. Some of the RTI users were thrashed and threatened as quick reaction for holding the Public Authorities (PA) accountable to common man. In many cases the PIOs asked the users to withdraw their applications else they would face the ill fate. About a dozen such adverse incidents have already taken place through the country, in which whistle blowers and RTI users have had to lose their precious lives. There is no significant change in this culture of the commission since the appointment of first CIC. PIOs are still slow in receiving the applications and disposal rate is even slower. RTI applications are not being taken seriously in many of the Government Departments. Disclosures as per the section 4 of J&K RTI Act has not been implemented in almost all of the departments. Training programmes for PIOs/APIOs and awareness programmes have not taken off. The fees of the RTI application as per RTI act is very high as compared to central government. Governmnet has been requested several times to reconsider the fees but to no avail. High fees is a firewall between a common man and the government and it is what government actually wants.
The PIOs are still enjoying the impunity under the so-called strong RTI Act. The penalties have not been imposed on the erring PIOs, who fail to provide the requisite information within stipulated period. PIOs are lax towards the RTI applications and deliberately refuse to respond or mislead the applicants. Appeals and complaints remain pending with the respective offices and even in SIC. Isn’t it that the bureaucracy has superseded the duties of a Commissioner or there are some reasons which need to be discussed publicly.
It is the right time to firm up the foundation of the SIC so that the superstructure raised on it is strong and safe. Else it shall be hollow body without soul and mind, a tree with rotten fruits, a boogie without engine. It seems that State information Commission is just a robot with remote control in the invisible hands and if this situation continues in future then the fate of SIC is doubtful and it shall remain nothing more than a structure without walls and roof which will not deliver. It all happens to discourage the applicants and weakening the RTI regime in the state.
Government is now expected to appoint the remaining two ICs as early as possible to complete the quorum of the SIC and direct all the Public Authorities to implement the act in their respective offices for its smooth functioning. Otherwise, Commission shall be little beyond a lollypop to tempt the innocent population of the state.
Author is an RTI Activist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org