Governor Returns Rti Bill
Srinagar, Oct 17: Without giving his assent, Governor S K Sinha has returned the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2007 to the State assembly, sources said.
The senior officials of the State Government though confirm that the bill is pending with Governor for his assent but they decline to comment whether he has returned it without assent.
Law Secretary Akhtar Kochak has this to say: “The bill is pending with the Governor and we are waiting for it.”
Following severe criticism by activists, the Government on August 31 introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2007 in the Legislative Assembly stating that the proposed amendment would bring it at par with Right to Information Act, 2005.
The objective of the Bill was to bring the state RTI Act passed by the legislature in 2003 at par with the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), 2005 passed by the Parliament. The state government pressed for the passage of the Bill and the J&K Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council gave its approval to the amendments. The Bill was later presented to the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir for his assent.
The activists in India described the Right to Information Act 2003 as shame and asked that it should be brought at par with the Central Act. Wajahat Habibullah many a times urged the State government to bring it at par with the Central Act.
And when the State Government brought amendment to the Act in 2007, the activists had described the amendments as inadequate saying they fail to secure effectively the fundamental right to access information for citizens in Jammu and Kashmir. If the Amendment Bill becomes law, citizens will have inferior rights in matters relating to seeking and obtaining information from the Government as compared to that enjoyed by citizens in other States. Though lacking teeth, the Governor didn’t assent to the Bill.
The Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act was passed by the state Legislature on 18th December 2003 and notified in the Government Gazette on 7th January 2004. The Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Rules were notified on 30th June 2005.
Representations compelled Governor to return RTI bill
Srinagar, Oct 18: Representations from rights groups prompted Governor S K Sinha to return the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2007 to the legislature.
Sources said that Governor had received representations from an NGO, Right to Information Movement, and other groups urging him to withhold assent to the bill.
The representations were given to the Governor soon after the State legislature passed the bill. Even Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) joined the movement requesting the Governor to invoke powers under Section 78 of Jammu and Kashmir Constitution 1956 to withhold his assent to the bill, they said.
Rights group in the representations said the bill is full of loopholes as it has not brought all the public bodies under its jurisdiction, especially Legislature and Judiciary making it applicable to Executive only. It was urged that Governor should ask the Government to expand the definition of ‘public body.’
The amendment says in each department there will be one Departmental Information Officer (DIO) who will deal with RTI related pleas. “But who will listen to the grievances of people who belong to far flung areas and have less accessibility to towns and cities,” says Dr Muzaffar, Convenor Right to Information Movement, an NGO.
He said there must be Assistant DIOs in each Tehsil and Block of Jammu and Kashmir, like we have Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) in Central RTI Act.
In the amendment, there is a provision of two information commissioners who will hear RTI related appeals. But the State having 20 districts and two commissioners could not do justice with a huge population.
“Rs one lakh has been kept for RTI publicity annually, which is a very small amount,” Dr Muzaffar said.