The Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to do away with the ‘RTI Rules 2010’ paving the way for the implementation of ‘J&K Right to Information Act 2009’ has drawn sharp criticism of turning the commission into a “toothless body". The objection is that with the latest amendment, the new rules are not comprehensive while most old ones have been deleted.
Chief information commissioner GR Sufi protests, “This has taken away the soul out of the RTI Act”.
The new rules are silent about implementation of State Information Commission orders and appeals while the old rules made it obligatory. Bizarrely, one would have to move the high court to get an order implemented, according to a new clause.
“The old rules had provisions about the structure and the working of the information commission, such as division of labour, working hours, vacations etc. The new rules delete all these provisions,” said J&K RTI Movement chairman Raja Muzaffar Bhat, who joined the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.
The new rules are silent about filing first appeal and counter before first appellate authority.
“This is rubbish. An activist has to go to make orders implemented. The very essence of RTI Act has been killed,” said, Shafqat Hussain, a lawyer.
Political parties have now joined the cry for restoration of the old rules. Opposition leader Mehbooba Mufit said “the government’s latest move on RTI was part of the organised attempt by the coalition government to demolish all instruments and institutions of transparency, accountability and probity in public life.”
She said, “Emasculation of the SIC and weakening of RTI Act would complete the Omar Abdullah government’s systematic demolition of all institutions created in the state to bring transparency and accountability in the system.”
She added, “Instead of removing the loopholes, if there are any, in the accountability law, the CM and his cabinet colleagues are using these as a fig leaf to seek judicial intervention to hide their misdeeds and acts of corruption”. Even National Conference MP, Mehboob Beg demanded strengthening and empowerment of the SIC.
“We should make institutions more accountable and stronger to restore credibility of the system. In our case, the credibility of the system has been dented as people don’t have faith on the institutions,” he said.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) State Secretary, Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami said the decision tantamount to “blunting the edges” of SIC.
However, the government says rules deleted were against the spirit of RTI. Secretary General Administration Department, Sheikh Mushtaq Ahmad said, “Rules which were deleted did not spring from the law and they could not be implemented practically as well. For example, the old rules talked about criminal proceeding, but there was no legal backing for their implementation,” he said.