Voluntary disclosure under RTI non-starter; Guv for transparency

Srinagar: Nearly six years after the Right to Information (RTI) Act was implemented in the state, almost all government departments are yet to make voluntary disclosure despite binding upon them under the transparency law.
It also goes on despite reminders to the administrative secretaries by the government from time to time.
With administration run by the Governor, the government on Thursday issued a fresh circular asking all the administrative secretaries to ensure that the provisions of Section 4 of the RTI Act (2009) are implemented “in letter and spirit” so that the relevant information was available on the official website of the departments.
“It has been observed that despite repeated instructions, many departments have not hosted the requisite information as required under the Act. The other measures for introducing transparency like electronic mode of payments also need further impetus and attention,” reads the circular.
The government has directed secretaries to devise a mechanism for periodic “review and updation” of the official website and ensuring that the official e-mail addresses of the officers are ‘active’.
“The arrangement may be reviewed in respect of subordinate offices or departments also and action taken furnished accordingly.”
The need for voluntary disclosure of information by the public authorities has also been highlighted in various meetings taken by the Chief Secretary including the Committee of Secretaries (CoS).
All the departments have already been asked to ensure that their official websites are constructed, and all relevant data, as required under the provisions of the Act, hosted on it.
The J&K RTI Act was enacted by the government on March 20, 2009 with an aim to secure access to the information under the control of public authorities; promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.
The government has also impressed upon the secretaries to promote transparency by encouraging e-tendering, e-procurement and making payments electronically or through cheques
The introduction of e-tendering and e-payments, it said, is also a step towards infusing more transparency in the system.
“The Works Departments have already issued instructions for resorting to e-tendering and e-procurement, in respect of works above a specified limit and issued instructions, guidelines accordingly,” the circular said and called upon other departments “to examine the matter and issue necessary orders as per the felt needs.”
Last year, the J&K High Court also issued notice to government on a petition, seeking directions to the government to comply with Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2009 within a specific time period.
“If the public authorities would have complied with the Section 4 of the Act, the information seeker wouldn’t be asked to file application for seeking information and waiting until 30 days,” says the petitioner, advocate Firdous Ahmad Parray.
In the PIL, Parray also highlights that due to non-voluntary disclosure of information, a commoner was being tossed from pillar to post.
In its annual report 2011-2012, the SIC, custodian of the transparency law, had also stressed the need for full implementation of Section 4 of the Act.