J&K Government Failing to Implement RTI Act Effectively

24 March 2016

By Er Irfan Ali Banka

The author was working as Junior Engineer (Civil) in J&K REW, Govt. of J&K “but felt it necessary to resign on 29th of January, 2016, because of huge corruption in the departments.” I work as a Social/RTI Activist. I am Founder & Secretary, In-Minds Society (J&K) and also District Coordinator, J&K RTI Movement. His article was first published March 22 in Rising Kashmir.

From the preamble of the JK RTI Act, 2009, it is clear that the major objectives of the Act are greater transparency in functioning of public authorities, improvement in accountability and performance of government, promotion of partnership between citizens and the government in decision making process; and reduction in corruption in government departments.

Citizen’ Right

Section 3 of JK RTI Act 2009 says: Subject to the provisions of the Act, every person residing in the State shall have the right to information. It casts an obligation on public authorities to grant access to information and to publish certain categories of information within 120 days of the enactment. The responsibility about suo moto disclosure/publication by public authorities has been considerably enlarged. Under Section 2 of JK RTI Act, 2009, the right to information includes following rights:

  • Right to inspect work, documents, records;
  • Right to take notes. Extracts or certified copies of documents or records;
  • Right to take certified samples of material;
  • Right to obtain information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device

History of Act in JK

On March 20, 2016 the Act completed seventh year of enactment of JK RTI Act 2009. However, we are celebrating 12th year of RTI in J&K, since it was introduced here in 2004 as “The Jammu Kashmir Right to Information Act, 2004” (the act that was modeled on the Freedom of Information Act passed by Parliament in 2002).

After the introduction of JK RTI Act 2004, Civil Society especially JK RTI Movement and some prominent activists from JK and outside JK carried out strong and successful campaigning to strengthen the RTI Act in Jammu Kashmir and their efforts brought JK RTI Act 2009 stronger than central RTI Act 2005.

The RTI rules were published in 2010 which were further replaced in 2012 with rules modeled on central RTI rules.

Status of RTI Act

The Act has empowered the people and has made the rights of people more enforceable and approachable be it economic, social or political. But if a thorough and deep analysis is made, one will say that the Act is confined either to the government officials or the activists, the reasons being non-awareness of the common man, for whom the Act would have been much beneficial.

Earlier in March 2015, I had come up with a survey based article published in five local newspapers of state which proved, factually, how the RTI Act has failed in Jammu Kashmir because of certain issues and constraints.

As usual, the stakeholders especially the Mass RTI Movement of JK and the activists who find the Act as one of the potent tools to curb the spate of corruption in Jammu Kashmir have analysed and found the government’s irresponsive attitude towards the effective implementation of the Act this year also.

The government may claim of well-planned programmes, schemes, and policies of economic development as well as social upliftment but due to lack of authentic and timely information, people do not avail of their benefits. They are often compelled to take recourse to corrupt means at the behest of touts and other undesirable elements to know and derive benefits from such programmes.

Government and the public authorities have again failed to implement the Act in an effective way. No doubt the JK State Information Commission has issued orders and communications have been made, pressing for the implementation of the Act and the compliance of the public authorities, but still there is lack of information on the websites of the government departments.

Non-maintenance and the digitalisation of records are the biggest challenges before the right to information movement in the state. There are still many departments who don’t have websites yet. Even our administrative departments have not uploaded complete information obligatory under Section 4 of the JK RTI Act on their websites. There has been poor response from the Public Authorities and the Government as well.

The State Information Commission is itself in a state of complexity. There is only one State Information Commissioner at JK SIC and the other two posts that is State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioner are vacant. Governor must look into the problems faced by the people and the Commission that has only one Commissioner.

Recommendations

Civil Society especially JK RTI Movement has been carrying out the sensitisation and public awareness since from the enactment of the RTI Act in JK in 2004. This year from 19th of March, 2016, RTI Week is celebrated with the involvement of common masses.

The main aim behind this is to publicise the Act since government has failed in doing it so far. JK RTI Movement is conducting about a dozen of workshops/training programmes in the month of March 2016, the grand one was on 20th of March, 2016 at Centre for Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, where former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah also attended the event. Following recommendations from different people have been received and accordingly put on board. Recommendations include:

  • The people from rural areas still don’t know how to file an RTI Application and even if somebody files his process stops at the appealing level. Activists believe that 90 percent of the filing will fall if Section 4 of the Act is implemented and if Section 23 is followed, a good majority of public will get aware of the Act. Need of the hour is to implement Section 4 from CM to Panchayat level and there needs to be an impressive compliance mechanism for its implementation.
  • The PIOs need to be trained in an efficient way and erring officials need to be treated according to the law. The PIOs are usually qualified people, so there is no excuse of training if one thinks deeply. Only one thing that needs to be done is to issue orders and guidelines for PIOs/APIOs to go through the soft copy of the JK RTI Act available online on Internet and get it implemented in true spirit in a time bound compliance mechanism.
  • Digitalisation of records is another important point under Section 4 of the Act. Once the digitalization of the records is done and the complete information is made available of the internet people who have the access to internet can easily go through it. It will eradicate non-sense words like “blackmailing” as there would be no scope of hide and seek. Objective of transparency will be achieved up to a large extent.
  • Recently the JK SIC opened a link on its website through which we can make second appeals/complaints online. Similarly, there needs to be a link through which one can file RTI application and first appeal and the same may be made available online. And after the response comes same may be put on the website. This will also minimise the number of RTI filings and also the chances of harassment/killing of RTI Applicants and so called “blackmailing” by RTI applicants.

Common Service Centres (CSCs) is a scheme of the Government of India under which 1,00,000 CSCs are being created. This means that there would be approximately one CSC for every six villages. The government should use these CSCs to collect applications (to act as APIO, as per section 5(2)) and facilitate citizens in filing RTI Applications.

  • Department of Posts (GoI) is already a designated APIO for central government. It is suggested that the State governments also accord to status of APIO to post offices and designate staff to assist citizens in drafting and forwarding the applications/appeals.
  • Complaints are often that the postal orders are not available readily at post offices, so if RTI envelopes with an inbuilt cost of application fee are introduces, the process of payment of application fee by applicants will be easier.
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