Jammu and Kashmir Moves Seen as Undercutting RTI

7 September 2012

The Jammu and Kashmir government in India on Aug. 30 passed new rules that critics say undercut the state right to information act.

One main effect will be to reduce the information commission’s ability to require information from government departments, according to an article by Riyaz Wani in Tehelka.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said this was an attempt to bring the law in line with the central law. A government spokesman said that there were certain discrepancies between the rules and the 2009 state RTI act making certain provisions which made it vulnerable to avoidable litigation.

State Information Commissioner G. R. Sufi responded by saying: “The government has made some drastic changes in the rules. There was no need for that,” according to news articles. The commission was not consulted, he said. “There was also a need for a public debate before the change in rules,” according to Sufi.

“In first place, there was no reason to come up with new rules, which have taken soul out of the RTI Act,” Sufi said, according to a report in IBNLive.

The six-page document replaces 27-pages of rules issued in 2010.

“Under the old rules the State Information Commission could take action if a public authority did not comply with its orders. The new rules delete this provision. So the appellant will have no option but to file a writ in JK High Court to seek enforcement of an order of the Information Commission,” Venkatesh Nayak, coordinator, Access to Information Program told Tehelka. “How many people can avail this expensive and time consuming option is a big question,” he also said.

The article attributed the changes to actions by the commission, explaining:

Early this year, Chief Information Commissioner summoned the Chief Secretary Madhav Lal asking him to pass strict instructions to all the administrative heads to make the pro-active disclosures about the official schemes and the other development work. This was for the first time that the top bureaucrat was summoned after he failed to respond to the communications from the Commission on the issue. Recently, the Commission directed the police to provide details of all the encounters that took place in the state in the last 21 years after the agency rejected on the security grounds an RTI seeking this information.

The new rules also reduce the guidance on the handling of appeals. The article stated: “Now the first appellate authorities need to only adhere to the 30-45 day time limit for disposal of first appeals,” says Venkatesh. “There are no other rules applicable to them such as giving the appellant an opportunity to explain his case etc”.

Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti called the move “an organized attempt by the coalition government to demolish all instruments and institutions of transparency, accountability and probity in public life.”

For more on the political fallout see a report by Umer Magbool in Greater Kasmir and an article in Ground Report.

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