Right to Information and Blackmailing

13 April 2016

By Er Irfan Ali Banka

The author was working as Junior Engineer (Civil) for the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir “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. This article first appeared in Early Times.

J&K RTI Act, 2009 is an Act which makes you a powerful citizen. It provides voices to the voiceless to express their feelings with regard to public policy, planning and performance. The act is all about information and the informed citizenry.

Need of Information:
Information is the greatest wealth to everybody to do something in the modern era. Particularly for rural community, it becomes more important to have the information about different government works, schemes, planning etc. It has been observed that the government departments do not perform up to the mark in the rural areas because of lesser transparency and accountability in the working of public authority. The people are less aware, although they have the tools like RTI Act and PSGA. People don’t know that one RTI Application can change the complete behavior of arrogant officials who are actively to behave as “public servants”. There is the need to aware the people about the information Act because hardly a few people from rural community know it.

What is Information?
“Information” is defined in the Section 2(d) of RTI Act itself as “any material in any form including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force”. It means, as per Section 3 of the Act, every resident of J&K has the right to above “information”. “Right to information” is also defined in the definitions clause as the right to: (i) inspection of work, documents, records; (ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; (iii) taking certified samples of material; (iv) obtaining 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.

Seeking information and blackmailing
People should make the use of this act as much as they can, to bring the sense of real public service in government officials and ultimately inculcate the culture of transparency and accountability. Seeking information is their right. Unfortunately, seeking information is, nowadays, termed by some people as “blackmailing”. This is because when somebody files an RTI Application, the corrupt officials may offer them something in return if he/she withdraws application. And, if the applicant withdraws application, he is a blackmailer; but the official is not blackmailed, rather he is a corrupt one. Such blackmailers must be exposed and the officials must be punished. How can an official get blackmailed if he follows Section 4 and 7 and provides the information to the public? It is their duty as per the Act. Another case is, if the RTI applicant does not withdraw application, he may be harassed physically or mentally or may be provided information. One has to be ready for the consequences.

Case Study
Two RTI Application were filed by Nasir Sofi and Er. Irfan Banka in I&FC Department, Tangmarg on Dated: 25-03-2016 Time: 02:48pm. Out of the 9 point information sought, seven information’s fall under the life and liberty case, which as per Section 7 of the J&K RTI Act means that the PIO has to provide this information within 48 hours from the date of receipt of the application.

We visited the office and filed the applications by hand so that it reaches sooner being life or liberty case. Firstly, there was no information available for public in the said office except a board displaying the name of the office at the front of the office building. Section 4 of the Act here seems to be nothing for the concerned PIO. Further, one can imagine the condition that, the office does not put the official seal, signature, name of PIO, Designation, and Contact etc. that is sought in the Acknowledgment of the application, which is also a necessary information for further communication with the PIO. We informed the concerned PIO about this matter, but he denied to do anything in the case.

At around 4:00pm i.e. just within 2 hours, a few contractors approached and came to my house and offered if I want anything? I said a flood protection bund, proper widening and excavation of Nallah ferozpora and the 9 point information sought. After so many requests to withdraw application they felt helpless and left taking a cup of tea. I got calls during night and in the morning AEE, Patwari accompanied by some other employees approached and called me at the site where protection is required.

They promised everything but I had to withdraw the application.

In the public Nasir Sofi, who had filed RTI for the first time, felt empowered because of his first RTI Application and said till now I have approached Patwari, Tehsildar and other Government Mulazims regarding our personal grievances, but they never put ear to us because we don’t know the rules, the schemes, and don’t have the information.

This is the real empowerment and the power of accountability and transparency laws’ awareness. We refused to withdraw application and further got calls from third parties. We were approached in every possible way but they failed and ultimately started provoking people. Although people trust us and we were able to manage the situations, but here we learnt that the PIOs can do anything. Contractors say their bill payments may get stopped and told people that we will provide you protection bund if RTI Applications are withdrawn. We know, public needs something for which they get diverted sooner.

But thanks to RTI which made my village people proud for being empowered just within a day. It was my first RTI regarding my village and proved for better results. The masonry bund was constructed within just 3 days from the date of our application, although there was no new allotment for it. It was possible only because of anti-corruption law i.e. RTI Act which could bring transparency and made the department to utilize the resources properly. The information has been also provided although it is too late and there are appeals/complaints regarding the same.

Conclusion:
PIOs and government officials are often seen taking about misuse of RTI. But they should understand that it is the duty of the PIO to provide information and follow Section 4 in true spirit. Once they implement it completely, the chances of so called blackmailing will get nullified. The only formula is follow section 4 and 7 of RTI, update websites with new information regularly, stop corruption, be accountable and transparent and above all respect the preamble of J&K RTI Act 2009. Respect law and feel relaxed.

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