Centre shifts RTI proceedings to CIC; Murmu’s admin sets up panel to ‘examine’ possibilities

TNN Bureau. Updated: 12/3/2019 5:34:11 AM Front Page

Confusion on transparency watchdog signals long wait for revival of other Statutory bodies as well

JAMMU: Despite Centre government largely focused on Jammu and Kashmir for past four months—a period which witnessed region’s federal status lowering from a full-fledged state to a union territory, a missing link between New Delhi and Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu’s administration here, on the fate of transparency watchdog has come to the light.
While the former had recommended in October the extension of the Central Information Commission (CIC) to the newly created UT along with all appeals and complaints under Right to Information Act pending before the now defunct State Information Commission, the J&K administration has set up a committee to examine ‘issues’ related to the state RTI Act, including the examination of whether the UT would come under the purview of CIC or a separate commission has to be constituted for the purpose, a month later.
The official documents exchanged between central government and the CIC reveal that all second appeals and complaints pending with the Jammu and Kashmir SIC under the erstwhile state's Right to Information (RTI) Act will be dealt with by the Central Information Commission (CIC), but the constitution of this panel by the UT administration has only raised eyebrows.
As many make out from the development, the confusion between Centre and State on this sensitive issue of transparency watchdog also indicates that the revival of other commissions and bodies which had to face ‘closure’ in the run-up to State’s bifurcation on October 31, will take quite some time.
As per the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act was to be repealed and Central Right to Information Act was to be applicable to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as that of Ladakh from October 31.
While States could constitute State Information Commissions, under the Central RTI Act, the UTs do not have power to establish and constitute Information Commissions.
On the ‘appointed day’, all the proceedings pending before the Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission (SIC) including around 550 Second Appeals and 250 complaints under J&K Right to Information Act, were to be transferred to the CIC for disposal.
And the work on the same was started much ahead of October 31 when Jammu and Kashmir state was divided into two union territories.
Official documents accessed through the RTI Act by transparency activist Venkatesh Nayak reveal that the Union Ministry of Personnel had on October 15, written to the CIC mentioning the steps needed for transition from the J-K RTI Act 2009 to the Centre's RTI Act, 2005.
“All appeals and complaints pending before the JK Information Commission were to be transferred to the CIC,” according to the Personnel Ministry action plan shared with the CIC.
The transparency watchdog was asked to examine these steps and offer its comments including suitable nomenclature of officers responsible for dealing with the RTI applications besides resolution of first appeals, second appeals and complaints pending there.
The CIC in its meeting held on October 25, 2019 agreed to all the suggestions given by the Personnel Ministry and recommended that "due seniority be given to second appeals/complaints pending with the Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission".
Meanwhile, taking everyone by surprise, the General Administration Department on October 28, formed a five-member committee to examine issues related to the state RTI Act, a move the social activists said was "aimed at delaying the smooth transition".
The panel, under the administrative secretary of the GAD, has been mandated to examine whether the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir will come under the purview of CIC or a separate commission has to be constituted for the purpose.
It will also spell out the actions required to be taken like re-designation of Public Information Officers under the JK RTI Act, "in case the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir comes under Central information Commission".
As per the order, the Committee would submit its report by December 26, making it at least two months delay from the recommendation of CIC.
"A plain reading of Sections 12-17 of the central RTI Act will reveal to any right-thinking person that UTs do not have the power to establish and constitute Information Commissions. Only the Centre and full-fledged states can set up such bodies. There was no need to set up a committee to examine this issue," said Nayak, head of access to information programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an NGO.
He said the JK GAD babus could have simply put up a note on this topic and approved what the Personnel Ministry had drafted and sent to the CIC, which has approved it too.
"All other actions for ensuring smooth transition have been outlined in the Personnel Ministry's communiqué mentioning the action plan.
“There was no need for a further examination of any issue,” Nayak said.
Since the two new UTs were formed, citizens and transparency activists have been approaching RTI advocates and officials concerned seeking clarity on disposal of their applications, and first appeals pending before various public authorities and the second appeals and complaints pending before the SIC.
The prevailing situation, in case of SIC-CIC confusion—is also indicative of the fact that various statutory bodies of the erstwhile State which were wound up upon J&K’s bifurcation will take quite some time in their revival.
Along with SIC, many other bodies and commissions including the J&K State Human Rights Commission, State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights, the J&K State Commission for Persons with Disabilities, State Accountability Commission, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, and State Electricity Regulatory Commission were wound-up as the acts under which these were set up ceased to exist on October 31.
Three weeks into its new federal status, the administration had also wound up the prestigious Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission, even as like other statutory bodies, there is no timeline for reconstituting the commission in sight, putting on hold various examinations conducted by the premier recruiting agency of the erstwhile State.
The 62-year-old Commission used to conduct the civil services examination for appointment to various civil services in the erstwhile State as well as examination for various key positions in state services. “While the JKPSC would continue in the UT of J&K, the commission i.e. the chairman and other members had to be relieved of their posts, as is the case with other statutory bodies, whose governing laws and acts would continue in the Union Territory,” a top official in the administration informed The News Now.

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