The State Information Commission (SIC), Punjab, which has the mandate to monitor free flow of information from public authorities continues to suffer because of erratic availability of funds from the state government so much so that sending orders and summons to respondents and appellants is getting adversely affected, causing hurdles in the day-to-day functioning of the commission.
Almost every quarter of the year, the salaries to staff and information commissioners are delayed, leading to a chaotic work scenario, forcing the top officials to rush to the government seeking release of funds.
The salary for December, supposed to be disbursed on the last working day of the month, was disbursed on January 18. In the past also, on many occasions, salary to the staff and commissioners had been delayed by two months.
“We have asked the government to create a designated fund portfolio for us,” chief information commissioner SS Channy told HT, hoping that things would be sorted in near future. “We are somehow managing and are treated better than other commissions of the state. In the list of important state commissions, we come after the state public service commission,” Channy said.
But the cash-strapped government is showing no hope and the scenario continues to be the same for the past 11 years since the commission came into existence in October 2005. Finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa said he had not received any report of lack of funds with the SIC, and confirmed that the budget to the SIC and other commissions is sent on a quarterly basis. “I need to check why the delay is caused,” he told HT.
An insider in the SIC said, “As we lack regular assured funds to pay for logistic charges, deliverance of summons and orders is delayed and we have to face embarrassment when respondents and even appellants turn to us saying they have not received any communication from the commission about the dates of hearing in their cases.”
No one as first appellate authority
Channy told HT that the commission was in the process of appointing the first appellate authority, which so far was not appointed. According to him, the SIC’s public information officer (PIO) is being designated as the first appellate authority and a junior officer has been made the PIO.
“We are looking for options to give cases that the first appellate dealt with as the PIO to some other officer, as he can act as PIO and first appellate authority for particular cases,” Channy said, adding that he had asked the government to appoint an officer as secretary in the SIC.
Despite the claims, there is no information in the public domain (official website of the SIC). Since Arvinder Singh, who was posted as secretary in the SIC, retired in August 2015, no new incumbent has been appointed. These days, a registrar-level officer is looking after the day-to-day working in the SIC.
Arvinder Singh as secretary was acting as the first appellate authority, and as per the SIC website, the manager, finance and administration, is the PIO, who continues to hold the same responsibility while no one has been nominated as the first appellate authority.