April 30, 2020
(The Economic Times)
NEW DELHI: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has asked the administration in Jammu & Kashmir to set up public information offices for all government departments at the earliest, and facilitate the implementation of the Right to Information Act in the newly formed union territory.
In a letter sent to J&K chief secretary BVR Subrahmanyam on Friday, the commission asked the administration to appoint a central public information officer and the first appellate authority under the Act, and transfer all the cases pending with the state commission to the central body.
According to an official, "In the commission meeting held on April 20, it was firmly decided to proactively engage with the J&K government to address the concerns of citizens.”
The commission has also written a similar letter to the chief secretary of Ladakh, Rigzin Samphel.
The commission has asked for the contact details of all the central public information officer (CPIOs) appointed by the administration in J&K. "It would be pertinent to mention that the commission has already received 163 complaints and second appeals from applicants directly which are now pending because of the lack of details about the CPIOs," the letter said.
The Centre in October last year had written to the CIC detailing the steps needed for transitioning from the J&K RTI Act 2009 to the Centre's RTI Act, 2005. All appeals and complaints pending before JK Information Commission were set to be transferred to the CIC, according to the action plan prepared by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and shared with the CIC. The commission in a meeting held on October 25 had agreed to all the suggestions given by the DoPT and recommended that "due seniority be given to second appeals or complaints pending with the Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission”.
Questioning the delay in the transition, particularly when the Centre has formally extended the jurisdiction of the CIC to Jammu and Kashmir, transparency activist Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said, while "the CIC and DoPT had been pushing for the transfer of cases to the central body, the UT administration had stalled the process by approaching the court, and appointing a committee to look into the process".
"There was already a plan in place so there should not have been any delay. In December, they started appointing CPIOs in some departments; home, finance, etc. … but the transitioning should have happened as soon as the bifurcation came into being," he said.
The CIC’s latest move will help address some of the concerns with regard to access to information in the UT, and restoring some of the lost confidence, Nayak said. . "People of J&K have always used the RTI Act effectively to demand accountability from the government … In a year, there used to be at least 15,000 RTI applications sent to authorities, which shows in a place where many civil liberties are under attack, there was a very vibrant system to seek access to information."
A government official said after the UTs were formed, several activists and lawyers had approached the government seeking clarity on several first appeals pending before various public authorities and the second appeals and complaints before the state information commission.
Over the months, several consultations took place between the CIC, DoPT and J&K officials, but, according to those in know of the matter, thte Internet shutdown in J&K, the 'Darbar Move' where the government functions in Jammu during six months of winter and in Srinagar during the summer, and then the lockdown in the wake of Covid-19 had delayed the paper work by officials in J&K. Read More