AKHIL MAHAJAN JAMMU: Strange it may be but it is true that designated authorities under Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act 2009 are clueless about road ahead with the erstwhile state getting bifurcated into two Union Territories in accordance with J&K Re-oogranisation Act 2019. This became evident when the Public Information Officer (PIO) in the office of Deputy Commissioner, Jammu found himself in quandary whether to entertain applications under the Act or not. Unclear about the status and future of the State Information Commission in the wake of J&K becoming a Union Territory, the government constituted a five-member panel last month under the Administrative Secretary, General Administration Department vide Order No 112-JK (GAD) of 2019 dated 28 November 2019 “to examine whether the UT of J&K will come under the purview of the Central Information Commission (CIC) or a separate Commission has to be constituted for the UT of J&K”. The terms of the committee, inter alia, included, “To spell out the actions required to be taken like redesignation of PIOs and other functionaries under the Act, in case the Union Territory of J&K comes under CIC besides “any other incidental issues”. The order, however, nowhere mentions that the designated authorities (PIOs) in each department and organisation should refuse or return the RTI applications or to withhold any information sought for under relevant sections of the J&K Act. The ambiguity with regard to status of the SIC unfolded when two RTI applications submitted by an RTI activist, vide RE897461870IN and RE897461628IN, were sent through speed posts to DC Office, Jammu on December 9, 2019. Surprisingly these applications were returned with observations “Item returned, refused “on the cover. When asked by the STATE TIMES, the PIO designated by the Deputy Commissioner Jammu could not reveal the authority ordering for refusing applications under RTI. As per sources, the confusion prevails due to reorganization of the erstwhile State and creations of the two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh on October 31, 2019. The designated officers are also clueless whether they have to implement the J&K RTI Act 2009 or the Central RTI Act, 2005. With ambiguity persisting, the question arises whether applications under the RTI Act, 2009 can be refused. The applications can only be refused or returned if the information sought does not fall within the restrictions contained in Section 8 and 9 of the Act and if it is not pertaining to the department. Sources said that the RTI activists and the general public is aghast over the state of affairs in the Union Territory, as they nurture the feeling of denial of their right to information.
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