“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

RTI has the potential to plough through bureucratic red tape to actually help real people in real need

Govt silent about RTI Act despite amendment in January

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2004 was amended in January this year but till date people are unaware about it and negating the Act’s clause 12-B, the previous government made no effort to disseminate this information.

The previous government led by former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad used to make tall claims about his government’s performance but these fall flat when one comes to know that the people were deliberately not informed about the amendments.

Ironically in a seminar held in Institute of Management and Public Administration (IMPA) in the last week of June, which was presided over by Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Government of India, Wajahat Habibullah the speakers expressed concern over “the inordinate delay” in pushing through these amendments which had gone to Governor for his ascent.

The news appeared in all the newspapers the other day and subsequently discussions on the topic are on in both print and electronic media. However, the State’s Law Ministry never bothered to clarify that the amendments passed by the State Legislature last year have been approved and have come in the form of an extraordinary gazette of the State. This was important given the significance of the Act considered to be a revolutionary step worldwide though some NGOs have serious reservations over this law even after these amendments. They want to bring this Law at par with GOI’s RTI Act of 2005.

It was only after a discussion on a local television channel recently where panelists “blasted” the government for not pursuing the issue and also castigated the former Governor S K Sinha for not giving his ascent, the State Vigilance Commissioner Ashok Bhan told Rising Kashmir that the Act had since been reframed with the amendments so that people know about it. Dr Bhan has otherwise been prompt in updating SVO’s website on such vital issues. But the Law department which is supposed to make such issues public is still in deep slumber.

The Act named as “The Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information (Amendment) Act 2008″ has been published in the extraordinary edition of The Jammu and Kashmir Government Gazette on January 5, 2008 and all the amendments made by the legislature have been approved. According to the amended Act, now the Controlling Officer and In charge of Office will be replaced by Controlling Information Officer and Departmental Information Officer respectively. Clause “g” in the original Act will be substituted with the “right to information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any office of government or public body. This includes right to “inspection of work, documents, records, taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records, taking certified samples of material and obtaining information in form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, videos cassettes or any other form”. Under the amended Act the information can be sought regarding the cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the council of ministers provided that those matters, which come under exemptions specified in the relevant section will not be disclosed.

The major change in the Act is that the State will have an Information Commission with State Information Commissioner as its head and shall have two state information commissioners as the members of the Commission. The State Information Commissioner and other Commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor on the recommendations of a committee consisting of Chief Minister (who will be chairperson), leader of the opposition in Assembly and Chief Secretary of the state.

The Commission has been vested with full powers to act on the complaints filed after the complainant has been refused information and other related issues. The Commission has authority to impose a penalty of Rs 50 per day on the Departmental Information Officer who has been found guilty of not furnishing information. The penalty shall not exceed Rs 5000.The Commission will also monitor the performance and prepare a report on implementation of provisions of the Act. By virtue of the amended Act, the government is bound to develop and organizational programmes to advance the understanding of the public, in particular disadvantaged communities as to how to exercise the rights contemplated in the Act, encourage public bodies to participate in the development and organizations of the programmes, promote time and effective dissemination of accurate information by public bodies about their activities and that it shall within 12 months of the commencement of this Act compile in its official language a guide containing such information in an easily comprehensible form and manner, as may reasonably be required by a person who wishes to exercise any right specified in the Act.

However, seven months have elapsed but the government is yet to prepare such a public document negating its own Act.