Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
After enactment of progressive version of RTI law in year 2009 Now repealed) , Omar Abdullah lead NC-Congress coalition Government in 2011 came up with one more pro-people legislation namely J&K Public Services Guarantee Act (PSGA-2011). After J&K came up with the public services law in 2011 , several state Governments like Assam , Bihar , Orissa , West Bengal , Maharashtra and many other states too enacted state level Right to Public Service laws. Even provincial Government of Khyber Pakhtookhwa (KP) in Pakistan enacted a law on the pattern of J&K PSGA in 2014. This law is called Haq e Hasool e KhidmaatkaQanoon and there is a separate Right to Public Service Commission as well in KP.
Under the J&K Reorganization Act 2019, J&K PSGA 2011 has been given protection by Government and this law is still applicable in J&K after abrogation of article 370. Will mere protection of this law work or will Government initiate awareness and implementation of around it as well ?
What is PSGA ?
Under J&K Public Services Guarantee Act 2011 (PSGA) any citizen of J&K has the right to Public Service within a specified time. If the service is not provided the officer is liable for punishment. Last year Governor administrationincluded 88 new services under this law and in total we have 183 services that come under the ambit of J&K Public Services Guarantee Act (PSGA). But when it comes to implementation of this law, the situation is pitiful. People continue to suffer due to inefficient public services. Corruption is rampant in Govt offices. Citizens are looted during issuance of Birth certificates ,caste certificates , ration cards etc. The Government’s own machinery (officers and supporting staff) who are supposed to implement PSGA are themselves not well versed with this law. The lack of awareness among citizens is making PSGA redundant. We have hardly heard about a Government officer who has been penalized for non-implementation of this law.
Lack of training
Public services Guarantee Act (PSGA) revolves round three Government functionaries who are designated as
a ) Designated Officer (DO)
b) First Appellate Authority (FAA)
c) Second Appellate Authority (SAA).
Majority of the Government officers are not trained how to deal with PSGA applications. Those who were trained by various agencies (IMPA or NGOs etc) several years back have either retried or have been promoted to some higher grade. With an aim of knowing what Government has done to create awareness about PSGA in Ganderbal district, one of our activists namely Sohail Khan used RTI Act to extract the information. Sohail filed RTI application in the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Ganderbal last year. The ignorant Public information officer (PIO) , instead of checking his own office record or collecting it from all districts officers, forwarded the RTI application to all the Tehsildars of the district Ganderbal. I don’t understand how can Tehsildar conduct awareness programmes on PSGA ?In response to PIO of the DC office , only one officer responded ieTehsildarGund district Ganderbal. The officer (TehsildarGund) instead of providing the actual figures ,provided details which were irrelevant and misleading . Other officers didn’t even respond to information seeker.
Similarly to get the actual figures about the number of workshops , seminars and other sensitization programmes conducted by Government for its officials and general masses towards understanding of RTI and PSGA laws , General Administration Department (GAD) failed to reveal the details to me under RTI Act. More than a year has elapsed since I sought these details from GAD but the PIO instead of providing information forwarded my application to all the Administrative Departments in Civil Secretariat by misusing the provision of section 6 (3) of JK RTI Act 2009 (now repealed). GAD is the custodian of this information and the PIO concerned should have provided the same to me. If a legislator seeks similar information from GAD will the PIO tell MLA, MLC or MP to contact all the Administrative Departments ? Pertinently RTI Act 2005 and the repealed J&K RTI Act 2009 as well clearly says that the information which can’t be denied to Member of Parliament or State legislature cannot be denied to a citizen.
The reality is that General Administration Department (GAD) and other Administrative Departments plus DC officeshave nothing to share vis a vis PSGA. During last 3 years they have conducted not even half a dozen training sessions for Govt officials on this law . Not even 10 % designatedGovt officers who have to implement PSGA have been trained. By adding new services to PSGA serves no purpose as estimated 80 % of the Govt officers don’t know how to dispose off a petition filed under PSGA .The Designated Officers (DOs) , First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) and Second Appellate Authorities (SAA) are ignorant about the basic provisions of this law.How can citizens get justice from them ? On the other hand citizens also hardly use PSGA as they too are ignorant about this beautiful legislation. Ironically during last 8 ½ yearsnot even a dozen officers have been penalized for not adhering to PSGA provisions. The position of Second Appellate Authority (SAA) needs to be deleted from the law and replaced with an independent Commission that would hold DOs and FAA s accountable on the pattern of State Information Commission (SIC) constituted under RTI Act.
Mere enacting laws or giving some state laws legal protection post article 370 abrogation is not sufficient , authorities should also make these laws workable for public good. If Govt can’t do this job themselves , let them involve NGOs and Civil Society organizations working in the relevant sector. Laws like PSGA and RTI Act need to be strengthened as these are potential legislations that will lead us towards good governance.
(The author is an Acumen Fellow and Founder / Chairman J&K RTI Movement)
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat