Congress’ RTI in poor shape in Jharkhand where it is a coalition partner

The Right to Information, the flagship scheme of the UPA government, seems to be in poor shape in Jharkhand as the state information commission remains non-functional for want of commissioners. Interestingly, the Congress is the alliance partner of the JMM-led government in Jharkhand. However, the party that claims Right to Information (RTI) as the brainchild of Manmohan Singh government, appears helpless in the eastern state where it is in power.

The posts of information commissioners (ICs) became vacant one by one in Jharkhand state information commission (JSIC) over the years.

The JSIC continued with acting chief information commissioner (CIC) Himanshu Chaudhary and two ICs for nearly three years in the past, as the previous BJP government was reluctant to fill in the vacancies.

Cases piled up and the purpose of the flagship scheme – to bring in transparency in government functioning – got defeated. About 6,000 appeals were pending, it was learnt.

It became all the more critical in May this year when the state commission became headless after the term of acting chief information commissioner (CIC) Himanshu Chaudhary ended. Interestingly, there was no permanent CIC in Jharkhand after the completion of Aditya Swaroop’s term.

Upon completing his term in May, Chaudhary had told chief minister Hemant Soren to fill the vacancies at the earliest. He told the media that he could dispose of 4,414 cases after hearing out a total of 29,832 appeals and fixed penalties in 198 cases.

After Chaudhary’sdeparture, about 30 employees of JSIC are practically without work.

Significantly, it (absence of CIC) impacted the employees who are not regular. The salary payment of two on contract, four daily wage earners and 10 home guard jawans deputed in JSIC were on hold since June in want of the disbursing officer – the CIC.

Personnel department joint secretary Sudhir Kumar Ranjan said the government in January had advertised for the posts. “We have received applications as well but the matter remains pending in want of clear cut directives from the government and the state assembly,” he said.

Elaborating, he said the delay was caused as there was no leader of the opposition (LoP) in Jharkhand.

According to the RTI Act 2005, there should be at least five ICs besides the CIC in state information commission. The posts are filled up through a process that includes scrutiny of applications by a committee comprising the chief minister as chairperson, a cabinet rank minister and the LoP. After scrutiny and selection, the list is sent to Raj Bhawan for governor’s approval following which appointments are made, he said.

The Hemant Soren government has nominated transport minister Champai Soren as a member but the committee is incomplete without the LoP, said Ranjan. He said the department also approached the state assembly underlining the provision, which has the mention that the leader of the largest group can also be nominated in absence of the LoP. He said the assembly has not replied till date.

BJP state president Deepak Prakash said the JMM-led coalition government was delaying it intentionally. “It’s a conspiracy to keep information under the carpet,” he said, adding that the government does not want people to know its “misdeeds”.

Prakash said the BJP has already elected Babulal Marandi the LoP and the delay was therefore uncalled for. The assembly was deliberately keeping the matter in abeyance, he said.

JMM spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya said the issue of the LoP was in the domain of the assembly speaker and therefore the party should not comment on it.

Congress state president and minister in the Hemant Soren cabinet said his party supports the RTI. “It is useful for common people, the pandemic due to the spread of coronavirus might have delayed the process of filling the vacancies,” he said.

Whatever might be the reason, the defunct JSIC has brought to fore the debate of transparency, besides the issue of salary due to 16 staff there.

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