Celebrating RTI Week from 19th of March 2016

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Objectives: From the preamble of the J&K RTI Act 2009, it is clear that the major objectives of the act are greater transparency in functioning of public authorities, improvement in accountability and performance of the government, promotion of partnership between citizens and the government in decision making processandreduction in corruption in the government departments.

Citizen’s Right

Section 3 of J&K RTI Act 2009 says,“Subject to the provisions of the Act, every person residing in the State shall have the right to information”.It casts an obligation on public authorities to grant access to information and to publish certain categories of information within 120 days of the enactment. The responsibility about suo moto disclosure/publication by public authorities has been considerably enlarged.Under Section 2 of J&K RTI Act 2009, the right to information includes the following rights:

1.     Right to inspect work, documents, records.

2.     Right to take notes on extracts or certified copies of documents or records;

3.     Right to take certified samples of material.

4.     Right to obtain information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.

Brief History of Act in J&K:

On March 20ththis year,seventh year of enactment of J&K RTI Act 2009was completed.However, we are celebrating 12th year of RTI in J&K since it was introduced here in 2004 as “The Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act, 2004” (the act that was modeled on the Freedom of Information Act passed by Parliament in 2002). After the introduction of J&K RTI Act 2004, Civil Society especially J&K RTI Movement and some prominent Activists from J&K and outside J&K carried out strong and successful campaigning to strengthen the RTI Act in J&K and their efforts broughtJ&K RTI Act 2009 which isstronger than Central RTI Act 2005. The RTI Rules were published in 2010 which were further revised in 2012 with rules modeled on Central RTI rules.

Status of RTI Act:

The Act has empowered the people and has made the rights of people in all spheres, whether economic, social or political, more enforceable and approachable. But if a thorough and deep analysis is made, one will say that the Act is confined either to the government officials or the activists, the reasons beingunawareness of the common man for whom the Act would have been much beneficial. Earlier in March 2015, I had written a survey based article published in five local newspapers of the state which proved, factually, how the RTI Act had failed in the state because of certain issues and constraints.

As usual, the stakeholders especially the Mass RTI Movement of J&K and the Activists who find the Act as one of the potent tools to curb the spate of corruption in the state, have analyzed and found the government irresponsive towards the effective implementation of the Act this year as well. The government may claim of well-planned programmes, schemes and policies of economic development as well as social upliftment but due to lack of authentic and timely information, people do not avail their benefits. They are often compelled to take recourse to corrupt means at the behest of touts and other undesirable elements to know and derive benefits from such programmes. Government and the public authorities have again failed to implement the Act in an effective way. No doubt the J&K State Information Commission has issued orders and communications have been made, pressing for the implementation of the Act and the compliance of the public authorities, but still there isa lack of information on the websites of the government departments. Non-maintenance and digitalization of records are the biggest challenges facing the right to information movement in the state. There are still many departments who don’t even have websites yet. Even our administrative departments have not uploaded complete information obligatory under Section 4 of the J&K RTI Act on their websites. There has been poor response from the Public Authorities and the Government as well.

The State Information Commission is itself in a state of complexity. There is only one State Information Commissioner at J&K SIC and the other two posts i.e. State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioner are vacant. Governor must look into the problems faced by the people and the Commission functioning under only one Commissioner.

Recommendations:

Civil Society especially J&K RTI Movement has been carrying out the sensitization and public awareness since the enactment of the RTI Act in J&K in 2004. This year from 19th of March 2016, RTI Week was celebrated with the involvement of common masses. The main aim behind this was to publicize the Act since government has failed in doing so. J&K RTI Movement is conducting about a dozen workshops/training programmes in the month of March 2016, the grand one was conducted on 20th of March, 2016 at Centre for Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, where former Chief Information Commissioner WajahatHabibullahwas also present. Besides, following recommendations from different people have been received and accordingly are put on board here:

1.     The people from rural areas still don’t know how to file an RTI Application and even if somebody files an application, his process stops at the appealing level. Activists believe that 90 percent of the filing will fall if Section 4 of the Act is implemented and if Section 23 is followed, a good majority of public will become aware of the Act. Need of the hour is to implement Section 4 from CM to Panchayat level and there needs to be an impressive compliance mechanism for its implementation.

2.     The PIOs need to be trained in an efficient way and erring officials need to be treated according to the law. The PIOs are usually qualified people, so there is no requirement of training.Only thing that needs to be done is to issue orders and guidelines for PIOs/APIOs to go through the soft copy of the J&K RTI Act available online on the Internet and get it implemented in true spirit in a time bound manner.

3.     Digitalization of records is another important point under Section 4 of the Act. Once the digitalization of the records is done and complete information is made available through the internet,people with access to internet can easily go through it. It will eradicate non-sense words like “blackmailing” as there would be no scope of hide and seek. Objective of transparency will be achieved up to a large extent.

4.     Recently the J&K SIC has opened a link on its website through which we can make second appeals/complaints online. Similarly, there needs to be a link through which one can file RTI application and first appeal so that the same may be made available online. After the reply comes, same may be put on the website. This will also minimize the number of RTI filings and also the chances of harassment/killing of RTI Applicants and so called “blackmailing” by RTI Applicants.

5.     Common Service Centers (CSCs) is a scheme of the Government of India under which 1,00,000 CSCs are being created. This means that there would be approximately 1 CSC for every 6 villages. The government should use these CSCs to collect applications [to act as APIO, as per section 5(2)] and facilitate citizens in filing RTI Applications.

6.     Department of Posts (GoI) is already a designated APIO for Central Government. It is suggested that the State Governments also accord the status of APIO to post offices and designate staff to assist citizens in drafting and forwarding the applications/appeals.

7.     Complaints that Postal Orders are not available readily at Post Offices are often heard so if RTI envelopes withan inbuilt cost of application feeare introduced, the process of payment of application fee by applicants will be easier.

 

 

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