Everyday Should Be Good Governance Day

SOME days back, a Jammu based digital news portal TSL uploaded a very interesting video interview on its facebook page. A young man from a remote village of Ramban district was talking about his bad experiences in seeking information under RTI regarding works executed in his village under MG-NREGA.  The young man who hails from Dehdah village of Gool tehsil of Ramban had been advised by officials in Assistant Commissioner Development (ACD) office Ramban to travel all the way to Jammu to file a second in the non-existent State Information Commission appeal under Right to Information Act (RTI).

The ignorant officers of Rural Development Department Ramban seem to be unaware of the fact that there is State Information Commission (SIC) in J&K as the same has been shut down soon after abrogation of article 370.

Traveling from Ramban to Jammu 

The aggrieved RTI applicant namely Shabir Ahmad Ganai, a resident of village Dehdah tehsil Gool district Ramban after traveling more than 150 kms reached Jammu some days back. When he went to Wazarat Road to file a second appeal before SIC , he was told that the said office had been shut down. Then he tried to meet Divisional Commissioner Jammu but he was denied the access. Poor Shabir has been in search of some information which should have been made available voluntarily in his village itself by the concerned Panchayat Secretary (VLW) , but Govt officials even after 15 years of RTI enactment want to hide the facts from the public.

Shabir had sought copies of plans prepared by village panchayat for various works executed under MG-NGREGA in his village during the last few years. This information was denied by the concerned Block Development Officer (BDO) who is the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) under RTI Act 2005.

Aggrieved, Shabir filed an appeal before Assistant Commissioner Development (ADC) Ramban; he too failed to provide the information. Finally, he was misled to file 2nd appeal in SIC Jammu. If this was a deliberate attempt to mislead Shabir, the officials should be taken to task. Shabir will now file 2nd appeal before Central Information Commission (CIC) New Delhi where his appeal will be listed only after a year or so.

Good governance week 

Recently, the Narendra Modi-led government launched a nationwide ‘Good Governance Week’ campaign aiming at taking good administration down to the villages.In a message, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the government is committed to strengthening good governance that is “pro-people” and guided by a “citizen-first” approach. The good governance week concluded recently and the theme of Good Governance Week is “Prashasan Gaon Ki Aur” which was celebrated as part of the 75th ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebration. The campaign was aimed  to redress public grievances and improve service delivery . Several programmes were held across all states and UTs in this regard. In Jammu & Kashmir also several programmes were held by Govt but majority of these programmes were held for photo ops as hardly any public grievances were addressed. Govt officers were seen taking pics in front of flex banners in almost all the Govt offices. The Good Governance week flex banners were seen uploaded on almost all the Govt  J&K department twitter handles. Even a layman could make out it was not anything else than photo sessions. In Reasi a boat rally was taken out in Chenab by the district administration with banners of Good Governance week. What kind of good governance delivery is possible while taking out a boat rally?

Guidelines for Good governance week 

Over 700 district collectors were supposed to participate in the good governance week campaign and during the weeklong event, they were supposed to visit different villages, blocks or tehsils of their district to provide timely grievance redressal and improve service delivery. How many DCs in J&K did this?

Guidelines were issued by the department of administrative reforms and public grievance (DARPG) and the state governments on the activities that will be taken by the district collectors at tehsil/panchayat offices. December 25th was to be observed as ‘Good Governance Day’ to mark the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The progress of the campaign was being monitored on www.pgportal.gov.in/ggw.

Every district collector/ district magistrate was supposed to present one successful good governance practice of the district and one successfully redressed public grievance case on the portal. We are unable to know what kind of information has been uploaded by DC’s from J&K on the designated portal about the activities they held during good governance week ?

Misinformation Campaign

On one hand, the Govt of India claims that central laws have benefited people of J&K after they were extended to J&K. Some laws are indeed beneficial but their benefits hardly reach people and I have already written a lot about a few such laws like Right to Fair Compensation Act (RFTCLARR) or Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA). When it comes to RTI Act 2005 extended to J&K post article 370 abrogation, it is now evident that this law has not at all helped citizens of J&K or even Ladakh.

The central RTI Act of 2005, extended to Jammu & Kashmir on 31 October 2019, was previously only applicable to central government authorities that operated within the territory of the former state of J&K, which included Ladakh. After withdrawing support from the government led by the People’s Democratic Party in June 2018, several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders ran a misinformation campaign that led many to believe that the RTI Act was not applicable in J&K because article 370 had been removed.

Those outside J&K were unfamiliar with the fact that J&K had a robust RTI law in operation, which was stronger and easier to use than the central law. The J&K legislature enacted the RTI Act in 2004, and passed an improved version of the law five years later.

As it did with more than 160 other state laws under the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, the Government of India could have protected the J&K RTI Act of 2009. Some of the prominent laws of J&K that are still protected post 370 are the J&K Public Services Guarantee Act (PSGA), 2011, the draconian Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978, and the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989.

RTI Movement in J&K 

The J&K RTI law came after a similar national law, the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was enacted in 2002 by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government but not passed because of opposition from RTI campaigners, especially the National Campaign for Peoples Right to Information (NCPRI). The FoI Act 2002 didn’t allow for an independent appeal structure and exempted many organisations. It was passed by both houses of Parliament and the President of India, but was never notified, meaning it did not take effect.

After the first United Progressive Alliance government enacted the RTI Act in 2005, the Jammu & Kashmir RTI movement, of which I was part, got in touch with activists espousing the right to information, such as Aruna Roy, Arvind Kejriwal, Shekhar Singh, Maja Daruwala and Wajahat Habibullah, who was appointed CIC commissioner that year.

The J&K RTI Movement persuaded the National Conference (NC) and CPI (M) to make RTI an election issue in the 2008 state assembly polls. Both parties assured people they would enact a strong RTI law if elected.

When the NC’s Omar Abdullah was elected Chief Minister in 2008, he made the draft bill public and sought public comments. On 20 March 2009, the improved J&K RTI Act 2009 was enacted.

Under the RTI Act 2005, there is no time-frame to dispose of a second appeal when filed before the SIC or the CIC. However, the now repealed J&K RTI Act of 2009 made it mandatory for the J&K SIC to dispose of the appeal between 60 to 120 days. This time-bound legal provision helped appellants get quicker replies and reduced pending appeals at the J&K SIC.

In addition, under the J&K RTI Act 2009, the first appellate authority could recommend to the SIC the penalisation of an obdurate public information officer. The J&K State Chief Information Commissioner had the rank and status of a Supreme Court Judge and two other commissioners were equivalent to state chief secretary. This ensured the government did not interfere with the SIC.

Conclusion 

After the repeal of article 370 and the closure of the SIC, J&K and Ladakh have been linked with the Central Information Commission-CIC  New Delhi’s CIC which is already overburdened with RTI appeals and complaints. All the pending cases in the J&K SIC were transferred to the CIC late in 2019. These cases are not even listed because thousands of appeals are already pending there. I have filed some RTI appeals before CIC more than a year back and till date not even a single appeal has been listed for even first hearing? More than 35,000 appeals are said to be pending in CIC, now imagine when shall Shabir’s case be listed for hearing? Had every day been a good governance day, persons like Shabir would not have had to come all the way to Jammu from a remote village in Ramban to get information about works executed under MG-NREGA in his village. The way Shabir has been made to move from one office to another clearly indicates that all these good governance weeks and days is simply a mockery as many Govt officers continue to harass people who seek transparency and demand accountability.


Views and details expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

Be Part of Quality Journalism

Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.

ACT NOW
MONTHLYRs 100
YEARLYRs 1000
LIFETIMERs 10000

CLICK FOR DETAILS


Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

KO SUPPLEMENTS