Dr Raja MuzaffarBhat
I am writing this piece not in the capacity of a columnist but as one of the aggrieved farmers whose land is being forcibly acquired by Government for construction of Srinagar Semi Ring Road. Collector Land Acquisition Budgam district has already prepared awards for payment of compensation. In-fact more than 60 % of the affected farmers have been paid compensation. How much has been paid to affected people is again debatable as majority of the farmers are not happy with Government’s land acquisition policy.There are many farmers including myself who are yet to be paid the compensation.
Recently I sought details of the awards prepared and compensation disbursed to farmers using my right under the Jammu & Kashmir Right to Information Act (J&K RTI Act 2009). The designated Public Information Officer (PIO) who is also Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) Budgam didn’t respond to my RTI application. Instead the Collector Land Acquisition / Assistant Commissioner Revenue (ACR) provided me a copy of information that he submitted before the designated PIO (Additional Deputy Commissioner-ADC).
Through this article I want to urge upon authorities to set their offices right. Even after 10 years of enactment of RTI law in J&K , the officers continue to violate the provisions of this law. Is it deliberate attempt or ignorance of law ? In both the cases Government Officers are at fault. After 10 years if PIOs or senior Government officers are ignorant of RTI law provisions, the same can’t be justified. If they are deliberately trying to conceal the information, Government officials doing so need to be taken to task. We are fighting the battle at multiple fronts that includes judicial intervention as well. The High Court Division Bench has very recently disposed our Public Interest Litigation (PIL) wherein Govt has been directed to adhere to the provisions of suo-moto disclosure of information plus creating massive RTI awareness under sections 4 and 23 of J&K RTI Act 2009….
Information sought ?
Videmy RTI application dated 16.11.2018 , I sought copies of “Awards” prepared for land acquisition coming under the alignment of Semi Ring Road in some six villages of Budgam district. The awards have already been finalized as the payment has been made to most of the affected farmers. I also sought certified list of land owners in whosefavourcompensation money has been credited. I sought details of exact amount credited into each beneficiary account and amount of land acquired. I also sought certified copies of reassessment made by Horticulture department on the Hon’ble High Court direction in the case of Ghulam Mohammad Bhat V/S State of Jammu & Kashmir. The PIO was supposed to respond to me but instead Collector Land Acquisition sent me a copy of letter which was actually addressed to the PIO (Additional DC). I have already challenged the same before State Information Commission (SIC) by filing a complaint under section 15 of J&K RTI Act 2009….
Response from Collector LA Budgam
The Collector Land Acquisition Budgam vide his official communication No: No: DCB/LAS/018/4230-32 Dated: 11.12.2018, denied to share the information. In his response the collector said that awards are yet to be approved by the competent agency. It was a shocking news as more than 60 % of the farmers have already been provided compensation in Budgam district and the officer claims that awards are not yet approved ? Regarding reassessment report of Horticulture Department , how can this be not available with collector as he happens to be the sole incharge of whole land acquisition process. The payment for fruit and non fruit bearing trees is also made by the collector. As for as details of compensation credited into bank accounts of farmers is concerned, the officer (collector) invoked section 8 (d) (f) and (i) of J&K RTI Act 2009. The plea so taken is frivolous and legally untenable solely on the ground that the information sought does not attract the exemption clauses at all. As an aggrieved farmer I have every right to know as to how much compensation per kanal has been paid to similarlysituated fellow farmers in order to project my own case for grant of enhanced compensation ? It is worthwhile to mention that across the state affected farmers are crying for payment of fair compensation and rehabilitation as per central land acquisition law by enacting a new Land Acquisition law after repealing the existing 84 year old obsolete law.
Disbursement of any compensation to any person in the State of J&K is by debit to tax-payers money and cannot be denied either to furnish or to make is voluntary disclosure in terms of section 4 of J&K RTI Act 2009.The provisions as contained in section 8 (d) of JK RTI Act 2009 cannot be invoked as neither any trade secret is involved nor any commercial confidence of the farmers is at stake simply on the ground that neither the state is a trader nor the farmers are businessmen. No intellectual property rights are involved. The Government is acquiring the land for public purposes by virtue of a public deal and no secrecy is involved in the matter. On the other hand Collector pays 15 % Solatium (Jabirana) out of the public money which too is in no way kind of trade or a commercial activity.
As regards invoking of section 8 (f) is concerned , it is a far-fetched ground. The money so credited into the bank accounts of farmers is not a money paid to them under any secret fund but the same is the money credited in lieu of their land and property acquired by Govt for public purpose. By divulging this information nobody’s life would be at stake ? As such this provision of section 8 of JK RTI Act 2009 also cannot be invoked.
As regards Section 8 (i) I want to make this clear for the information of readers and Government officers that the disclosure of information will not impair the privacy of any person nor divulgence of information is likely to harm any bodies personal interests. Collector LA / ACR Budgam has escaped the sight of the provision contained in same section 8 (i) to the effect that the complainant is entitled to have access to all the information which otherwise could be shared with the Parliament or State legislature.Being a KAS officer and having been a designated Public Information Officer (PIO) in past, Collector / ACR should be well versed with the provisions of J&K RTI Act 2009.
Why it took Collector more than 20 days to write a one paged letter telling me information can’t be provided ? The letter could have been sent on the same day when the RTI application was received by the PIO DC office Budgam ?Additional Deputy Commissioner Budgam and Collector Land Acquisition have apprehension that aggrieved farmers may demand the application of similar yardstick in their cases of land acquisition as has been adopted in case of those whose information has been sought for under RTI law. It seems that information is deliberately and intentionally being refused while as in one case the information has been provided under RTI by the same office. By denying information PIO or any other officer should not be under this impression that information seeker has no other forum to get justice. There is a provision of 1st and 2nd appeal or aggrieved can even file a complaint directly before the State Information Commission (SIC).
Dr Raja MuzaffarBhat