‘Implement RTI Act Or Face The Music’2 October 2011
Srinagar: Armed with provisions of the J&K Right to Information Act of 2009, the Chief Information Commissioner GR Sufi Sunday threatened action against government departments and officers who refuse to comply with the legislation and orders of the State Information Commission (SIC). In an interactive session with RTI activists and members of civil society here, Sufi said the SIC has so far issued about 200 orders. “It has become imperative to see their implementation on ground. Now that the SIC is all set to be provided with two commissioners, we shall review the implementation of these orders. We shall act against the departments and officers who have not followed the orders in letter and spirit,” Sufi said. In a clear warning to Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities, Sufi said “if any officer feels that nothing will happen if he won’t implement the Commission’s orders or deny information under the RTI Act, he is playing with fire. We shall act tough against the negligent officers once the full-bench of the Commission is in place.” Sufi was speaking at a day-long interactive session on “Participatory democracy and J&K Right to Information Act” at the College of Education here. The meeting was organized by the J&K RTI Movement, a non-governmental organization working for promotion of the legislation in J&K, in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) & Open Communication Foundation (OCF). Sufi said it is not difficult to act against bureaucrats. “There are provisions in the State RTI Act-2009 which provide for holding an inquiry by an institution like the State Vigilance to inquire whether the difficulties, which officers claim to face during the RTI implementation, are genuine or not. And then, the Act provides the Commission with powers to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the officers who disregard the legislation. We also have the powers of filing a prosecution against them in the court of law. So we shall exercise any of these options, if the need arises,” Sufi told Greater Kashmir on the sidelines of the meeting, which was attended by a number of civil society members and RTI activists. Sufi said certain Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities are yet to implement the Commission’s orders. “This has been viewed very seriously. The government departments must ensure placement of adequate manpower to deal with RTI applications,” he said. “No excuse shall be entertained on this front. And if some bureaucrats are under the impression that they can sit on the RTI applications and get away with it, it is simply an illusion. They will have to face punitive action if they fail to comply with the legislation and the Commission’s orders.” Sufi urged the RTI activists to make proper use of the RTI Act so that “nobody gets a chance to raise fingers at the legislation and scuttle it.” “The RTI activists are expected to tell the Commission on how they have made use of the information they received from a department,” he said. “An information seeker must use the information in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Act. That is the way to bring about transparency and accountability in the system.” In a question-answer session, Sufi had to face a volley of questions from the participants. These included queries about the Commission’s mandate, the follow-up action on SIC orders, the status of complaints in the Commission and also about his future course of action. The participants urged the state government to desist from making any amendments in the Act which will weaken the legislation. “We want amendments in a positive way and not anything which would weaken the legislation,” said a participant. Others who spoke on the occasion included Prof Subi Chaturwedy, professor of Mass Communication at Delhi University; Mahima Kaul, Director Open Communication Foundation; 2009 IAS topper from Kashmir, Dr Shah Faesal, Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat, Chairman JK RTI Movement and Registrar, State Information Commission, Muhammad Syed Shah.