Nine Years of the Right to Information Act: A Review

Nine Years of the Right to Information Act: A Review
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SHEIKH MAQBOOL

The J&K Government enacted the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information ACT in March 2009 with a few progressive modifications. The residents of J&K have made use of the J&K RTI Act to obtain information from the public authorities in the state. They can also use the Central RTI act to collect information from public authorities under the control of the Central Government which are based in J&K.
Section 12(1), J&K RTI Act 2009 prescribes the composition of JKSIC as a three member commission. Section 12(5) of J&K RTI Act lists the areas of expertise from which the commissioners can be appointed. The areas of expertise listed are: Law, Science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media and administration and governance. Presently, the commission is working on two members.
The J&K RTI Foundation has played a significant role in overcoming the mind set of resistance to enacting strong access law in the state, and resources and organized workshops on J&K ‘s RTI Act with civil society organizations for capacity building of civil society representatives to understand the provisions of the RTI Act in depth, learn crisp, precise and effective information requests and go back to their villages and towns to teach people about the procedures for seeking information at the community level. Consequently, the RTI has been actively used to unearth corruption in public procurement and public service delivery. Several articles have been published in newspapers highlighting implementation issues. We always raise voices against the bureaucratic approach towards the appointment of commissioners.
In order to commence our analysis of the decisions of the JKSIC, our partners filed applications on the organization’s behalf, approached the staff of the JKSIC personally, but the information could not be obtained. In such an event, we were left with no option. J&K RTI Rules framed by the State Government authorizes the JKSIC to place Its decisions on a website, but in the absence of a mechanism for an independent verification, it would not be possible to say whether each decision had been uploaded or not.
In a recent study by the J&K RTI Foundation on the working of information and the use of RTI Law in state, a major finding showed that none of the reports have been uploaded on the website after 2013 by the State Information Commission and only 15% of complaints cases disposed. The Right to Information Act mandates annual reports to be submitted by the Commission (section 22).The study of the decisions of the Commission portrays the extreme levels of lenience with respect to imposition of penalties. Even though the officers have been show caused, the levels of imposing the penalty and realization of the amount is extremely low; penalty which gives teeth to the Act must be taken recourse to in cases which requires so.
The J&K RTI Act 2009, has a provision for the implementation of proactive disclosure norms. It places an obligation on the public authority to publish certain categories of information as indicated in the 17 enumerated in Sec 4(1)(b). The categories mentioned had to be published within 120 days of commencement of the Act. In absence of the said, the Commission has the powers to require the public authority to comply with the provisions of the Act. However, when the newly appointed chief information commissioner Mr Khursheed Ahmad Ganaie passed some directions/notices, but unfortunately this don’t lead to any good result on ground. The information commissioners should direct the public authorities to go for digitization of records to make access to records easier and cheaper on the public exchequer.
Even in the 9th year of the implementation of the RTI Act, the law suffers from procedural mistakes by the PIOs and FAAs. When replying to the applicant, the PIO must mention his/her name and designation. Even in the reply from the PIO, the PIO must inform the applicant of the details of FAA. Likewise, for the FAA, the name and designation must be mentioned.
The progress on the part of public authorities towards effective implementation of the Act, in earnest, and the Act’s large scale acceptance and use by the people, as an instrument for pressing transparency and accountability of public bodies/officials -will be the true indicator of the success of the Act. In order for the Act to achieve its objectives, all the stakeholders concerned with implementation of the Act -both from supply and demand sides-will have to work in partnership and mission mode.

—The writer is the Chief spokesperson of J&K RTI foundation and can be reached at: sheikhmaqbool2012@gmail.com