Srinagar, Dec 23, KONS: For all practical purposes a stillborn initiative till now, the headless State Information Commission (SIC) has nevertheless guzzled over Rs 80 lakh of the taxpayers’ money in the past 14 months for maintaining idle offices and supporting staff.

The information was, ironically, dug out by RTI activist Raman Sharma in a series of queries on the commission’s expenditure during the months it has been in a state of limbo.

Constituted with much fanfare in October 2009 to give teeth to the Right To Information (RTI) Act,

the commission’s history has been anything but impressive except for the spectacular manner in which its proposed head, veteran Kashmir hand and chief information commissioner at the centre, Wajahat Habibullah, was kept from taking charge of the post.

It has been ten months since prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and the then leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, JK Advani, disagreed on a replacement for Habibullah at the centre, and the government has yet to decide appointing a chief and his subordinates for the commission in Jammu and Kashmir.

During this period, the Commission established offices at the Old Assembly Complex in Srinagar, and also rented space in Trikuta Nagar, Jammu. Both offices have remained open, since it has been assumed that the 3-member SIC wouldl follow the High Court pattern, wherein the Chief Information Commissioner follows the Darbar while one Commissioner remains in Jammu and the other Commissioner remains in Srinagar.

The Commission also established its website (www.jksic.nic.in) through NIC, and has established modalities for videoconferencing with NIC facilities in the districts once it begins hearings.

During this long wait, however, expenses amounting to nearly 80 lakh rupees have been incurred. In the fiscal year 2009-10, Rs. 21.29 lakhs were spent on salaries, while Rs. 53.62 lakhs were spent in the 2010-2011 fiscal year up until October.

Since its founding, Rs. 2.16 lakhs have been spent on telephone and Internet bills, Rs. 2.50 lakhs for Darbar expenses, Rs. 2.53 lakhs for fuel, and a further Rs. 1.09 lakh on computers, stationary and other miscellaneous items.

Other expenses have been borne directly by the Estates Department and Motor Garages and are not included in these figures. Overall, at least Rs. 83.19 lakhs has been spent, while the Information Commission has been forced to idle and the RTI users have been left with no recourse as their RTI applications have been ignored and some of them have faced threats and physical attacks.

“It’s a shame. The absence of Information Commissioners makes it very difficult if not impossible to ensure a thorough implementation of the right to information. The J&K RTI act is a very strong law.

It seeks to empower people by making the administration accountable to them. Unfortunately, the authorities haven’t displayed the required sincerity in bringing this about.

The State Information Commission is presently defunct and the taxpayers’ money being spent in its upkeep is simply going down the drain”, says Raman Sharma, the RTI campaigner who unmasked the commissions expenditure.

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