Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
It is now almost 17 years since the Right to Information Act (RTI) has been operational across the country. The law has been applicable in Jammu & Kashmir from 2004 when PDP-Congress Govt first time came up with this law in J&K which was known as J&K RTI Act 2004. Then NC-Congress Govt in 2009 came up with J&K RTI Act 2009 around March 2009. This was a better law that was considered to be more powerful than central law (RTI Act 2005). The provision for voluntary disclosure of information is the heart of RTI Act 2005 and this was a provision under J&K RTI Act 2009 (now repealed). If public authorities or Govt officials don’t abide by this provision even after more than a decade , how can the Govt claim that they have set up a regime of transparency and accountability. If the work orders , estimates and other documents related to developmental works are not digitized and not uploaded on Government websites , how can we claim that we are adhering to the Digital India programme of PM Modi ? It was shocking news when a Junior Engineer of Rural Development Department failed to provide work estimates of a village road constructed under MG-NREGA to a local resident in Nagam block of Budgam. The aggrieved person brought the matter into notice of Chairman DDC Budgam who issued orders to make disclosure of all the estimates of the official website of district Budgam & through social media sites as well.
Chairman District Development Council (DDC) Budgam Nazir Ahmad Khan recently through a circular directed the Assistant Commissioner Development (ACD) and Assistant Commissioner Panchayats (ACP) to make all the work estimates public on official district website and social media so that people can know how much funds are available for developmental works in rural areas and what kind of material has to be used for the same.
While stressing on the voluntary disclosure provision of RTI Act 2005 under section 4 (1) the Chairman DDC Budgam said that it been brought to his notice that the District website Budgam isn’t having updated information on PMAY beneficiaries from all the blocks.
“In addition to it people complain that the estimates approved for works aren’t available in the public domain and when a JE in Nagam block of Budgam was asked to provide a copy of an estimate for a village road project he refused to provide that categorically. This is completely against the policy of Govt of India and LG administration in Jammu & Kashmir ” reads the circular issued by Chairman DDC Budgam
Chairman said that people were forced to use RTI Act 2005 to seek information about estimates and works done in villages by the Rural Development Department and even after filing the same they are not provided information. This is very much true. I fully agree with DDC Chairman Budgam. This practice of not disclosing the work estimates has to be stopped. If the officals don’t abide by section 4 of RTI Act 2005 even after 15 years of its enactment , I think they are committing a criminal act. “Public servants have to be accountable to the citizens and that is mandated under several laws and constitution which includes RTI Act 2005 as well ” reads the circular
Govt offices & social media
To make sure public authorities adhere to the Good Governance model and realize the digital India dream, I believe that all the work details , like estimates , bills , Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) should be scanned and uploaded on different digital networks like official websites and social media pages of Govt offices. I appreciate that many Govt offices have created dedicated Twitter handles but the majority of them don’t have this at all. If a Block Development Officer (BDO) , Tehsildar or Block Medical Officer (BMO) or even non gazetted staff have created social media accounts , why are they reluctant to create an official Facebook page or Twitter handle of the BDO office , Tehsil Office or BMO office ? Through these social media sites also the voluntary disclosure of information can be made. LG Manoj Sinha ji is also serious about this . During our meeting with him in January 2021, we brought this issue into his notice and very next day GAD came up with a circular asking all the Govt offices to update their websites and social media pages / handles. Some offices did abide by it but the majority are least bothered. I highlighted this issue in the past also but it seems LG’s order , GAD circular and my suggestions on the subject have no takers in Govt offices. The LG administration has to be more strict on this.
Updating websites / social media pages
DDC Chairman Budgam rightly emphasized in his circular that some dedicated officials should be assigned the task of updating the social media pages of Govt departments. He suggested that a dedicated website be created for the office of Assistant Commissioner Development Budgam and Assistant Commissioner Panchayats Budgam separately. This is indeed a historical order and I believe this will revolutionize the work culture in our Rural Development Department and ensure transparency in works as well. This must be replicated by other line departments as well like PHE Jal Shakti , Health , Revenue , PWD (R&B) etc
The Chairman DDC Budgam must hold a review meeting on it after a month so as to know whether his order has been implemented on the ground or not ? Unfortunately most of such circulars and orders are not implemented on ground. Recently the Director Geology & Mining Department issued a circular banning Riverbed Mining from July 1st to September 15th across J&Ks rivers , streams , but illegal mining continues and District Mineral Officers are least bothered to enforce the ban. We had to bring this issue into notice of IGP Kashmir and SSP Budgam. I would in fact suggest other DDC Chairpersons across J&K to issue similar circular in their respective districts for making all the work estimates public on Govt websites and social media by setting up dedicated facebook pages and twitter handles of all the Govt departments from Block , Tehsil to District level offices.
(The author is Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement)
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat