J&K government organisations not serious about RTI

Srinagar: As the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act (J&K RTI Act) entered its ninth year, a rapid study of the official websites of 230 public authorities under the state government conducted by J&K RTI Movement and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) revealed that compliance with the requirements of proactive disclosure of information under Section 4(1) (b) of the Act remained poor. Section 4(1) (b) of the J&K RTI Act makes it compulsory for all public authorities to place information about their organization and functions, powers and duties of their officials, rules, regulations, norms and manuals that guide their work, details of decision-making processes, budgets and expenditure, subsidiary programmes implemented, authorisations and permits issued and a list of all records held in paper or electronic form. Every public authority is required to publicize relevant facts about all important policy matters or decisions it takes from time to time.

The findings from a rapid study of the official websites of two Divisional Commissioners (Kashmir and Jammu, respectively), the administration of 22 districts and 206 departments, autonomous bodies and other public authorities observed that majority (59 percent) of all the districts have not uploaded section 4(1) (b) information to a reasonable degree of compliance on their official websites. “They are either incomplete or not published at all,” revealed the findings released by J&K RTI Movement and CHRI at the Institute of Management, Public Administration and Rural development (IMPA) here on March 20. The findings further revealed that three-fourths of the district websites did not display any information about their annual budgets. Only Bandipora and Budgam districts displayed the latest (2016-17) budget-related information.

More than three-fourths (138) of the public authorities with websites have not displayed budget-related information, revealed the findings. The website of the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, as per the findings, stated, “Chief Minister’s Secretariat does not have budget allocation for any programme nor it has any agency under its direct control.” However, the budget document uploaded on the website of the Finance department displayed the amount allocated to the Council of Ministers and the Chief Minister’s Secretariat in 2017-18 as: The Council of Ministers (voted) Rs. 752.80 lakh; Chief Minister’s Secretariat-GAD: Salary, travel expenses, medical reimbursement grant: Rs. 54.80 lakh; and Chief Minister’s Secretariat-GAD: Secret Services expenses: Rs. 1,500 lakh. Even the budget-related section of the RTI Handbook (Manual) of the Governor’s office (Raj Bhawan) was not updated after 2014-15 and the website of the J&K General Administration Department (the nodal department for implementing the J&K RTI Act) was not updated for budget-related information after 2016.

Only two public authorities (Finance Department and the Directorate of Audit and Inspections) had displayed budget related information for 2017-18. Six of the remaining public authorities (Directorates of Horticulture and Animal Husbandry, State Legislative Assembly, State Legislative Council, IMPA and Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology) had displayed budget related information for 2016-17. The State Pollution Control Board had not updated its budget-related information after 2008-09.

More than 15 percent of 209 public authorities (other than Divisional Commissioner and District Administration) in the state covered by the study did not have websites. Four out of every 10 of the 177 public authorities with official websites did not display any information required to be proactively disclosed under Section 4(1) (b) of the Act. About 19 percent (32)of the public authorities have not displayed any details regarding the Public Information Officers (PIOs) and First Appellate Authorities (FAA) designated by them for dealing with RTI applications and first appeals.

The website of Kargil district was the best of all district websites included in the study. Detailed information about the working of the Deputy Commissioner’s office and other departments in the district was published in compliance with the J&K RTI Act. Udhampur was the only district administration to display the physical verification reports of the developmental projects undertaken under various developmental programmes up to 2016.

Some districts have nevertheless taken innovative steps to display other categories of information proactively, the findings added. While the website of Doda district displayed property statements of the officials of the Deputy Commissioners’s office and the Tehsildars and the total number of various types of ration cards issued by the administration (tehsil-wise); websites of Samba, Rajouri and Pulwama districts displayed the number of complaints received under the J&K Public Services Grievances Act, 2011. However, this information was not regularly updated.

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