By Umer Ahmad
Srinagar- In a startling revelation it has come to the fore that no awareness campaign or training workshop on the Right to Information (RTI)Act has been conducted in Jammu and Kashmir since August 2019.
This was revealed by the Government of India in reply to an RTI filed by Kashmiri advocate Naveed Bukhtiyar, Coordinator J&K RTI Movement.
“The reply made it evident how serious the government is in bringing transparency and accountability in J&K,” Naveed told Kashmir Observer.
“It was shocking to know that the government has not spent a single penny on the awareness of RTI law in J&K since the abrogation of Article 370 when there was an urgent need for the awareness.”
Notably, in August 2019, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had justified the removal of Article 370 as a necessary step “to eradicate corruption and to bring accountability” in J&K.
But RTI activists argue that if the government really wanted to end corruption in J&K, then they shouldn’t have removed the JK RTI Act “which was more efficient than the Central RTI Act”.
“Now the government is not even organizing RTI awareness programmes after implementing the Central RTI Act 2005 in J&K,” Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, founding chairperson of J&K RTI Movement, told Kashmir Observer.
“It’s mandatory under Section 26 of RTI law for the government to organize awareness programmes—including cultural events and plays—for the public as well as government officials.”
It’s also mandatory, Ghulam Rasool said, to translate the RTI Act in local languages.
“But since the abrogation of Article 370, government officials are not taking RTIs seriously and are instead harassing people seeking information,” he said.
Seconding him, Zahid Parvaaz Chowdhary, a Gujjar Bakarwal leader and an RTI activist, said that it’s sad that the government has not conducted a single awareness programme for Gujjar and Barakwals in J&K since the summer 2019.
“Our people are mostly uneducated and there’s a dire need to create awareness among them about their rights and how they can get information from the government departments, but unfortunately we’re being ignored,” Zahid told Kashmir Observer.
“If the awareness programs had been conducted we could easily obtain the information we need. In absence of the awareness, the Gujjars and Bakarwals are facing indifference in government offices.”
The Central RTI Act, the Gujjar leader said, should be translated into native languages, like in Gojri, Sheena and Pashtu, for different ethnic and linguistic groups.
But due to lack of awareness about the Central RTI Act 2005, the information activists of Kashmir said, most of them are not able to file RTIs in rural areas.
“There has been a sharp decline in RTI filing among rural activists,” Sheikh Mohi-ud-din, a faith-healer turned RTI activist and vice-chairperson of the J&K RTI Movement, told Kashmir Observer.
“These grassroots activists are unaware of the Central Act 2005 making them cripple to file RTIs.”
As per Section 25 of the Central RTI Act 2005, there’s a legal requirement for all public authorities to file a quarterly report before the commission.
However, according to the 2020-2021 annual report released by Chief Information Commission (CIC) office, out of 40 public authorities in J&K, only seven—including Animal and Sheep Husbandry department, Civil Aviation department, Horticulture department, Industries & Commerce department, Law department, Rural Development department and Social Welfare department—have submitted their quarterly returns to the CIC for the assessment of their performance.
“Since it’s quite clear that the government is nowhere serious to protect or strengthen this law,” Naveed Bukhtiyar said, “it’s time for all activists and leaders to join hands to save the revolutionary law from dying.”
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