CIC to hear RTI appeals of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh residents from November

(The Economic Times)

NEW DELHI: Information shared by foreign governments in confidence would be out of bounds for the residents of the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, like the rest of India, and appeals under the RTI Act may have to wait for two years before being heard.

The J&K State Information Commission would cease to exist once the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act comes into effect on October 31 and the Central Right to Information Act becomes operational. The Central Information Commission (CIC) would be the appellate authority for RTI appeals and complaints.

About 700-odd appeals pending before the J&K State Information Commission will be transferred electronically to CIC. “The Commission would start hearing the appeals and complaints from November,” chief information commissioner Sudhir Bhargava told ET.

The Centre was in a fix over the law under which the appeals would be heard. There is a protransparency section in the J&K Act, which sets a 120-day limit for the Commission to decide on an appeal. There is no such limit under the Central RTI Act. For the residents, this would be a big change as the average waiting time at CIC is upwards of one year.

There are nine exemptions in the Jammu and Kashmir RTI legislation, while there are 10 under the Central RTI Act. The exemption of Section 8 (1)(f), which is about information received in confidence from foreign governments, is present only in the Central Act.

RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak, however, feels this would not affect the people’s right to information in J&K and Ladakh. “Information pertaining to foreign governments was generally denied to people. If not 8 (1)(f), the authorities use 8 (1)(a) – information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect… relation with foreign state…”

After the gazette notification of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, CIC had asked the home ministry and the department of personnel and training (DoPT) if it should start hearings immediately. “We were told that the implementation of the Act would begin on October 31 and CIC should wait till then to start hearing appeals. Till then we are keeping everything in place – like possible work distribution among information commissioners as this would be an additional workload,” a senior CIC official said.

DoPT sources indicated that the appeals cannot be decided under a defunct law and would be under the central law. “The central law would be the law of the land from October 31. The appeals pending on that day will be decided under the new law,” a senior DoPT official said.  Read More