Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
After repeated appeals to Government and State Information Commission (SIC), the Jammu & Kashmir Right to Information Act (JK RTI Act 2009) is yet to see its implementation. Section 4 and 23 of this act are hardly enforced by Public Authorities. Section 4 of the state and central RTI Acts calls upon public authorities to make voluntary disclosure of permissible information through different modes including digitization and uploading the information on official websites. State Information Commission (SIC) through former State Chief Information Commissioners (CIC’s) G R Sufi and Khurshid Ahmad Ganai issued more than half a dozen circulars to Government asking it to make suomoto disclosure of information at different levels as mandated under section 4 (1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009. As per this provisions ofJK RTI Act 2009 the said disclosure was to be done with 120 days of enactment of the Act and then at regular intervals, but inspite of more than 10 years since JK RTI Act 2009 has been enforced in J&K state, most of the state Government websites portray obsolete and outdated information plus having all the copy pasted material available on them. This is not only violation of the law and disrespect to State Information Commission but this also amounts to depriving people the access to information as well which is a part of fundamental rights as per Article 19 of constitution . As campaigners of RTI law in J&K when there was no positive response from Government at different levels we finally sought judicial intervention by way of filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before J&K High Court in May 2018.
Prayer before HC
Neither is Government making information available on official websites nor are any awareness programme held towards understanding of RTI Law. Pertinently from 2011 to 2014 more than 2500 Govt officers were trained on implementing RTI Act but from 2015 t0 2018 not even 100 officers have been trained by Government. These details were provided by Government to High Court last year. Section 4 of the J&K RTI Act clearly states that every public authority shall maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed. The authority should have all the records and should publish this information within 120 days. The information must include powers and duties of officers, the procedure followed in the decision making process, rules, regulations, instructions, circulars , beneficiary list of various Govt schemes , manuals and records etc. All have to be disclosed to general masses.
Under section 23 Government has to train its officers on RTI law implementation plus public awareness has to be conducted as well especially among disadvantaged communities. When the PIL was listed for hearing last year ,Government provided all the misleading information to High Court and we filed a counter response to that. The office of Deputy Commissioner Rajouri misled High Court in such a way that all the bogus and exaggerated information about RTI awareness programmes was placed before the court through General Administration Department (GAD). The court was told that 617 RTI workshops had been held in district for public during last several years, while as all other 21 districts collectively had not organized more than 500 such programmes ie 10 to 15 each. The biggest fault in the reply was failure to reveal the details of RTI workshop that RTI Movement had organized at Dak Bunglow Rajouri in March 2010 which was attended by then Central Chief Information Commissioner Mr Wajahat Habibullah. I remember the then DC RajouriMr Jaipal Singh and SSP MrShafaqatWatali were also present in that workshop along with around 100 district officers and all the DY SPs , SDPOs and SHOs of Rajouri. After some time when I sought more details of 617 RTI workshops, the DC office PIO has only provided a bundle of lies. The video clips, photos and media clippings as sought under RTI about these so called 617 workshops have not been provided. How could they provide it when these meetings were never ever held ? My argument is that Govt officials are now lying even before the High Court which should be taken very seriously.
Jammu & Kashmir High Court on 27th December 2018 disposedoff our Public Interest Litigation (PIL) titled JK RTI Movement v/s State of J&Kwith the direction to the Government to adhere to the provisions of section 4 and 23 of J&K RTI Act 2009. The order was passed on the concession offered by the appearing Government counsel M A Chasoo (Additional Advocate General) that the state of J&K would not have any difficulty in adherence of the said provision of RTI law. Hon’bleHigh Court division bench of Justice A M Magray and Justice Sanjeev Kumar disposed off the PIL giving direction to Govt to implement the said sections of Sate RTI LAW. Even after 6 months of passing of the order , the proactive disclosure as mandated under section 4 of J&K RTI Act 2009 has not been made by almost all the public authorities within the state who by and large are working under the administrative of the General Administration Department (GAD). In-fact GAD is the nodal department for implementation of RTI law in state as well. The Govt websites are same as they were 6 months back.
Let me quote few instances of violation of section 4 of RTI Act . Beneficiary list of PMAY ,toilets under SBM etc are not available on most of the officia District websites. DPRs of PMGSY and other developmental departments are not uploaded on websites. PMGSY has no official websites at all in J&K. Official website Rural Development &Panchayati Raj Department civil secretariat is defunct. Notifications and awards prepared during land acquisition process are not uploaded on DC office websites and infact the officers are denying even to share the same under RTI Act quoting security threat to beneficiaries. Details of old age pension beneficiaries , widow pension etcare also not uploaded on District websites , even the link in this regard available on state social welfare department website is not assessable. I can quote 100 such examples wherein Govt has failed to divulge information under section 4 of JK RTI Act 2009.
We were contended to see the Hon’ble High Court verdict dated Dec 27th 2018. More than 6 months have passed and GAD has not even issued any order or circular to the Government offices to implement the direction of the Court. Even if some order has been passed I have never seen the same nor it has been put in public domain or given due coverage in the local press. We now have no option left other than filing contempt proceedings before the court of law.
It has become a routine for the Government offices not to implement the direction of various Courts especially the direction of J&K High Court. Unless and until aggrieved move contempt proceeding, the Government officers are unmoved. High Court direction titled J&K RTI Movement V/S Government of J&K is one such classic example. I hope judiciary will also take a strong notice of this………
(The author is founder & Chairman J&K RTI Movement)
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat