A Successful Decade of RTI Act

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Nicely jotted words by Mr Sajad Bazaz in a local daily, highlighting the success of the RTI Act in India, could not satisfy me, as an activist who is associated with the prominent activists of the country. I agree with one part of your article where you have mentioned the scams exposed in India; but dwelling on  the negative side of the Act in J&K, I don’t agree. You have generalized with respect to RTI Act in J&K State. Being associated with J&K RTI Movement, I am witness to the impact of the J&K RTI Act at the grass root level as well as at the policy making levels in the state. The J&K RTI Act has give access to the common man who seemed powerless and helpless before. While as the common man has got strengthened and can get his work done in the departments by just filing an application, at the same time prominent activists use this Act to have an eagle eye at the policies being framed at the higher levels.

Dear Sajjad Bazaz, you have neglected the success of the Act in the state. I would like to remind you of the scams like Mushtaq Peer’s BOPEE Scam, Chopper Scam and the world famous Tossamaidan Movement. All these have been possible because we have the powerful tool of J&K RTI Act which could not even pardon the Army. The information that was used to rise for the freedom of Tossamaidan was obtained by filing an RTI Application! Today, when the Movement of Tossamaidan has become an example for the RTI Activists, it seems you have either missed to mention these stories in your Article or done it deliberately! One cannot forget the recent public hearing in Bandipora District by the concerned District Authorities. Happening for the first time it proved a helpful tool for flood victims for the proper distribution of relief.

You have said that there is no formal procedure for becoming an RTI Activist; but I would like to clear you, that RTI Movement has laid down some basic criteria for becoming  an RTI Activist. J&K RTI Movement group which is involved in promoting good governance and transparency by raising awareness about the Right to Information Act is recognized at both national and international levels. Being an Activist of J&K RTI Movement I can come with a definition, “an RTI activist is a person who activates society towards using RTI and works on its advocacy, awareness and implementation. Further, an activist is one who obtains information from the public authorities, exposing scams and using it for the betterment and benefit of the public.” I agree with you that the RTI Act is being misused, but you cannot call every RTI user as an RTI Activist. RTI Activists do this job without any false intention or any greed. We as J&K RTI Movement, teach RTI and help people file RTI’s to get their problems solved, every Friday at our H/o Hyderpora and various branches at Budgam and at Magam. I have personally arranged an office on rent at Magam because I have understood its need for the common man and the need to make aware people of the Act by using these RTI Clinics.

Dear Sajjad Bazaz, I invite you to come on the grass root level, visit the rural villages and also meet those 52 villages of Tossamaidan. I am sure you will present RTI as a successful Act of J&K. It is because of an RTI Application of Ashraf from a Gujjar Family of remote area that BPL lists are made public today and BPL got liquidated, IAY got liquidated and so on. Even government employees are using this Act to get promotions and university students are using it to get the Xerox copies of their evaluated answer sheets. I must remind you that hundreds of applications were filed in Kashmir University by the students in 2013 which is on record and because they knew RTI can do justice for them.

Dear Sajjad Bazaz, you have been added to the list of people who say people use RTI for blackmailing. We welcome you to provide us a few cases of these blackmailers. We have organized a group for dealing with these cases and welcome and appreciate the people who provide us information on blackmailing through RTI. Moreover, it is to clear you that blackmailing is not possible if the information provider is an honest and dedicated Government official who does work with honesty and integrity. Yes, people can blackmail by filing many RTI Applications based on the same contents and then make appeals in bulk just to make the PIOs suffer, but  this practice will also lead to an arrest when the Proactive disclosure is made. Section 4 of RTI  Act talks about suo motu declaration of 17 types of information held in the office. If this is done and put in the public domain, the number of applications received under RTI will go down drastically.  Suo motu declaration will hence save officers from blackmailers. However, if there has been done something illegal by the officer, it is obvious a blackmailer will blackmail him, but this does not make the law and the image of the activists bad. I would add to your last lines of the article that both the blackmailer and the blackmailed must be harshly punished. But till now how many cases of blackmailing have been exposed in J&K, kindly let us know. Officers should file criminal complaints against blackmailers and immediately report J&K RTI Movement. You are also welcome to file a complaint with the State Information Commission which has inherent powers though not present in black and white. Being the highest autonomous and independent body it can investigate if the act is implemented in accordance to the law. Even officials themselves under law can deal with the persons misusing the act. Government officials often say RTI is a tool of harassment and blackmailing when their annual property statement is sought by an RTI Applicant. He/she should remind that as per service conduct rules of 91 he/she has to submit property statement, annually. And of course, it will lead to transparency, when the information of an officer is made public. It will clear if any illegal means of asset growth has taken place and no RTIs will be filed against.

We, as a movement, are in search of blackmailers and have been removing such persons (blackmailers) if at any time found associated with our movement. I have personally seen such people being removed and dealt harshly in J&K RTI Movement. However, having  proof against blackmailers is a tough job.

Sometimes there may be a nexus between a blackmailer and a government employee who bribes such a blackmailer to file RTI against a faulty Officer within his department. This all depends whether you are honest or not. And each and every department should take the mission of transparency and accountability onwards including the J&K Bank. We are still in doubt, why the J&K Bank is not willing to accept itself as a public authority. People have a right to know about the functioning of the bank. However, under section 8, 10 and 11 of the J&K RTI Act 2009 there are adequate safeguards and issues wherein bank is exempted to provide the information. Moreover, it is also to be checked by the PIO to see which kind of information would have security issues in disclosing. But it is not like you can deny all the information of the bank pertaining to public interest. There are many other banks that also are a public authority under RTI. My question to Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, “Should not the information regarding recent PO recruitment by the bank be made public?” I am in doubt, if there is a fair selection, then why to keep this information hidden? And what about the utilization reports regarding CSR of the bank. Is it not worth publicizing? Such information could be only possible if the J&K Bank falls under the RTI Act and the bank should not hesitate in disclosing information proactively. I had submitted  an application for allotment of Khidmat Centre, but still after years I don’t know its status. Who will let me know when there is no right to information? Recently my letter was published in Kashmir Observer in which my grievances were mentioned. Should not the J&K Bank make Bank Charges public so that customers like me may not be required to pay Rs 609.74 for closing an Account? I need answers to these question, Dear Sajjad Bazaz.

Further, I again request your goodself to let our movement know about a few instances of blackmailers. we will appreciate it And also we request you to visit the grass root level and see the wonders that  the RTI has done the common man.

RTI Slogan – (Hum Janeige, Hum Haq se Janeige)

Author is co-coordinator (Baramulla), J&K RTI Movement and Secretary, In-Minds Society (J&K)

He can be reached at: er.irfanalibanka@gmail.com

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