JAMMU: Negating preamble of Right to Information Act 2005, the designated Public Information Officers (PIO/APIO) in several government functionaries have either turned nelson eyes towards the RTI applications or mindlessly refusing information owing to myopic understanding of Section 8 of RTI Act.
The Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) as well as office of District Magistrate, Jammu continues to be the champion for adopting lackadaisical approach towards implementation of RTI Act in letter and spirit. The author of this news vide receipt No 7553 and 9227 filled two separate RTI applications seeking details of establishments sealed/de-sealed w.e.f Jan 2017 to Oct, 2021 and ATR on pleas which were dismissed by J&K SpecialTribunal w.e.f 1st June, 2021 to Dec 2921 respectively.
Surprisingly, the PIO in both cases not only remain impassive on the issue but also defy with impunity orders of First Appellate Authority (FAA) which vide JMC/Estt/10700-10704 dated 30/12/2021 and JMC/Estt/12966-68 dated 4/3/2022 has directed concerned PIOs to furnish information to applicant within 15 days.
The situation is also grim in the office of District Magistrate, Jammu where PIO neither responds to a RTI application seeking information about unauthorized Arms dealers in Jammu district nor paid any heeds to repeated communications of FAA. Following First appeal, the long trail of missives (5 Nos) dashed by FAA to PIO itself shows the attitude of PIO towards transparency Act.
Even as legal experts and RTI Activists believes the tendency to puncture RTI Act has reached critical stage amid amendments made in the RTI Act, one at the behest of the Shri Krishna Committee in 2017 and another by Parliament in 2018 by BJP government at Centre, the prevailing dismal picture pertaining to proactive disclosures of information under Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act on official websites of government departments exposed tall claims of transparency made by LG administration in Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory.
“There is a trend prevailing among PIOs to suppress or deny information by recklessly invoking Section 8(I) (g) (j). This unwanted practice goes against guarantee of information derived from Article 19 of the constitution and vigorously pursued by those government departments where corruption and irregularities have become indomitable affair, avers Prof. S.K Bhalla, a renowned social and RTI Activist.
As a matter of fact Section 8 of RTI Act lists only 10 exemptions to information disclosure. This includes (a) anything that compromise national security/sovereignty (b) information forbidden by any court of law/tribunal (c) invasion of privacy breach parliament/state legislature (d) trade secret/intellectual property information which harm the 3rd party (e) fiduciary relationship (f) information received in confidence from foreign Govt (g) information disclosure of which would endanger life or physical safety of a person or identity/the source of information given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes (h) impedes investigation/prosecution of offenders (I) papers related to cabinet/ records of deliberations of secretaries and officers decision on which is pending (j) personal information having nothing to do with public activity/interests.
However, to protect enforcement wing from public scrutiny for promoting large scale illegal commercial constructions and maintaining prolong silence on establishment of new illegal colonies, the Jammu Development Authority deny major part of information to author of this news item citing Section 8 in an imprudent manner apparently guided by those who have little knowledge about RTI Act.
Interestingly, while replying to RTI application vide order No JDA/CLA/RTI/814/121 dated 3/12/2021, the PIO cites Section 8(e)(j) to deny status of enforcement officers who were suspended for dereliction of duty. Whereas, Section 8(g) (j) was blankly used to withhold details pertaining to violators of BOCA unless the applicant specify the larger public interest served through disclosure of such information.
Stating that majority of PIOs in government departments are denying information citing Sec 8 (e)(g)(j) out of ignorance, Prof. Bhalla says “In a democracy, the Govt officials spend public exchequer and thus accountable to public. There is nothing personal when it comes to discharge of official duty. A public servant continues to be a public servant round the clock. When the enforcement staff of JDA or JMC fails to act against unauthorized colonies and unplanned constructions, the general public is the sufferer and thus disclosing information about violators as well as action against erring officials served larger interest of public”.
The PIOs should act responsibly and avoid drawing imaginary interpretation of section 8 only to limit inconvenient public disclosures, added Prof. Bhalla.