ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Information Commission has directed Pakistan Railways to provide data concerning minorities’ quota in the organisation in writing within 10 days.
The directive was issued by the commission after hearing a case regarding Pakistan Railways’ violation of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 and the commission’s statement that there is no provision in the Right of Access to Information Act which permits a public information officer to ask a complainant to appear in person to collect the requested information.
According to the order available with Dawn, a citizen by the name of Basharat Masih had filed an appeal with the information commission on April 20 this year, stating that in January he had sought information from Pakistan Railways about the total number of posts it had advertised on the seats reserved for minorities, especially after the issuance of a quota notification in May 2009 in grades BPS 8 and above.
Mr Masih had also sought to know the total number of applications received, and subsequently, the total number of minority candidates hired for the jobs in accordance with the quota notification.
Directive follows an appeal of a minority community member seeking data on the posts PR had advertised
With no response from Pakistan Railways, Mr Masih approached the Pakistan Information Commission which issued notices to the railways twice. They did not appear in the hearings and then another notice was issued to them.
But through a letter dated Nov 1, the assistant personnel officer-III for chief personnel officer of Pakistan Railways, Zahoor Ahmed Butt, asked Mr Masih to come to the office of chief personnel officer, Pakistan Railways Headquarters, located in Lahore on any working day and the information sought by him would be provided.
“At no place in the Act is it mentioned that entities can call complainants to their workplaces to share data. Doing this may make the complainant feel pressurised,” said Federal Information Commissioner Zahid Abdullah.
Speaking to Dawn more about the matter, he said that “complainants can belong to far-flung areas and that is another reason why they should not be called over to get data”.
“We have urged Pakistan Railways to provide data in writing within 10 working days,” he added.
Moreover, the respondent [Pakistan Railways] has also been asked to immediately share on its website all categories of information mentioned in Section 5 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 and also submit a compliance report to the information commission by Jan 6, 2020, he said.
“In case it fails to implement the orders, contempt notices would be issued since it is bound to follow the orders or it can file an appeal against the decisions in the high court,” said Mr Abdullah.
The Right of Access to Information Act was enacted in October 2017 under which all public bodies were to proactively disclose their information by April 2018.
However, a large number of them still lag significantly behind in ensuring their digital presence and, even if they do, the information provided on their websites is quite limited.
The Pakistan Information Commission has struggled to come into existence in the country as under the previous government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, it was to be set up within six months which did not happen.
However, the present government notified the Pakistan Information Commission on Nov 7, 2018, and former information secretary Mohammad Azam Khan was nominated the chief information commissioner.
Additionally, under the law, a person eligible to become a judge of the high court is to be the federal information commissioner, hence Fawad Malik was nominated and the eligibility for the other member of the information commission was that he or she has to be a member of civil society and has 15 years of service, and thus Mr Abdullah was nominated for the other post of federal information commissioner.
Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2019