Beseiged JSIC slaps fine on senior officer
Manoj Prasad

The Jharkhand State Information Commission (JSIC) recently slapped a fine of Rs 15,000 on a senior officer of the State Health Department for not providing information to an applicant under the Right to Information Act. This is the third penalty imposed by the JSIC under the Act, which allows it to impose a maximum penalty of Rs 25,000.

Information Commissioner Baidhnath Mishra slapped the penalty on Secretary Prakash Harenz, who declined to provide information to applicant Lala Agam Prasad.

Prasad had sought details about the service records of his wife Kishori Devi, who had recently retired as a department staff. “But Harenz not only delayed and refused to furnish it despite repeated reminders by the applicant, but also gave him details that were false and erroneous,” Mishra noted in his order.

According to Section 4(1)(B)(XVI) of the RTI Act, the names and details of public information officers—who were assigned to help citizens get access to information—had to be displayed within 120 days of formation of the JSIC on July 30, 2006. The state Government-constituted JSIC has six commissioners headed by the CIC.

However, the order has not been adhered to in most districts and blocks of the state, said a JSIC letter (a copy of which is with The Indian Express) addressed to all state secretaries, principal secretaries, divisional commissioners and district collectors on May 9.

“Even nameplates and signboards were not put up outside the offices of the Public Information Officer/Assistant Public Information Officers. This is violation of the RTI Act,” said the letter, which was issued as per CIC Harishanker Prasad’s order. “Do that and inform us before June 15,” it added.

JSIC records indicate that the number of complaints of non-compliance of the Act have shot up from 43 (December 31) to 78 (May 20). “Most of these complaints were from the Health and Education departments,” said the CIC.

There were as many as 471 applicants who were denied information by District Collector and Additional District Collector rank officials. None of them was held accountable for the lapse.

All is not well even within the JSIC. Five of the six commissioners led by Mishra, a former editor of a local Hindi daily, had lodged a complaint with Governor Syed Sibtey Razi, alleging that their constitutional body was beset with problems. None of the commissioners, who held the rank of Chief Secretary, have an official residence or personal secretary. For them, the state Government had posted two assistants. “They have the fund. If they need staff, they can have that too,” said Santosh Kumar Satapathy, Secretary (Personnel).

However, the commissioners complain that the CIC was not ready to oblige them. “Since there are no computer operators, we are forced to write orders by hand,” said Commissioner HP Munda.

At the same time, against the state Government’s allocation of Rs 1.57 crore for its upkeep during 2006-07, JSIC spent less than Rs 43.85 lakh. Sadly, factionalism and corruption pervade the corridors here, where a committee had been set up last year to purchase office goods. :: Beseiged JSIC slaps fine on senior officer