IN December 2022, the J&K Government directed all Public Authorities to ensure strict adherence to the provisions of the Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI Act) and facilitate speedy dissemination of information to information seekers. The Secretary General Administration Department (GAD) had instructed all Administrative Secretaries, Heads of Departments and Managing Directors to conduct fortnightly reviews to ascertain the status of disposal of RTI applications received in their offices. In addition, they were also directed to furnish the compliance report on RTI implementation to the GAD.
“The objective of the Right to Information Act, 2005 is to empower citizens by way of promoting transparency and accountability in the working of the government and eradicating corruption to make democracy work for the people in real sense. An informed citizen is well equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable towards the citizens,” reads the circular issued by Secretary on December 16th 2022
In addition, Chief Secretary Dr A K Mehta in January had impressed upon all the Govt offices to make all services digital. As per the Govt statement which was also issued on December 16th 2022 while Chief Secretary was reviewing the performance of the Information Technology (IT) Department in a meeting in Srinagar, A K Mehta directed the officers to prepare a list of all the services provided by the departments. The Chief Secretary directed the officers to separate the services still offered through offline mode and prepare a roadmap for offering the same through an online platform with end-to-end digitisation by January 15 2023. Chief Secretary Dr A K Mehta during the meeting asked the officers of the IT department to issue advisories to different Govt departments for conducting security audits of their official websites as well without any delay. By January 15th 2023, all the offline services had to be made online. It’s well past the deadline now and we continue to seek information under Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI Act) through an offline mode.
No training on RTI & other central Laws
After abrogation of article 370, more than 800 central laws have been extended to J&K. There are dozens of pro-people legislations that would benefit the people directly but unfortunately neither the people nor the law enforcing agencies in Govt have been trained to implement the laws like RTI Act 2005, Right to Education Act, Forest Rights Act 2006, Consumer Protection Act 2019, Right to Fair Compensation Act 2013 and J&K Public Services Guarantee Act -PSGA2011. A law student from National Law Institute University Bhopal Lavya Bhasin in January this year sought information from the General Administration Department -GAD about the number of training programmes held at district level for designated officers on RTI, PSGA and Right to Fair Compensation Act. The GAD being the nodal agency to implement RTI & PSGA should have provided this information to the RTI applicant but the Public Information Officer in GAD Mr Mohit Raina in order to play safe transferred the RTI application to all the administrative departments vide his letter number: GAD-ADM0RTI/05/2023-09-GAD Dated:15.01.2023.
I want to ask the officer why he did that?
Isn’t he aware how many workshops GAD had conducted for designated officers in J&K especially when it came to RTI and PSGA ? How can other departments respond in this regard? The administrative departments further transferred the RTI application to their directorates and other subordinate organisations who have again transferred the applications to district offices and the response is nil.
The PIO in the office of DG Audit & Inspections has in-fact told RTI applicant Lavya Bhasin that RTI & PSGA training was in the domain of GAD but the poor Public Information Officer (PIO) who knows his department had done nothing vis a vis training of PIOs or other officers just simply transferred the RTI application by wrongly invoking section 6 (3) of RTI Act 2005. The Revenue Department has also not provided any information to Lavya Bhasin with regard to training workshops conducted for Land Acquisition Collectors vis a vis Right to Fair Compensation Act 2013. This central law has also been made applicable in J&K with effect from Oct 31st 2019 but the designated collectors are wrongly applying the legal provisions of this law which this author has explained several times in past in my write-up and J&K High Court has also castigated the Govt for the same.
No Digital Platform available
As there is no digital platform available in J&K to file an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI) in spite of Govt’s assurances, the information seekers have to face lots of challenges to deposit RTI application fees in the shape of Indian Postal Order (IPO) or to send the RTI application. To buy an Indian Postal Order (PIO) is an arduous task in J&K. I have not come across a single post office in any urban or rural area of J&K where Rs 10 Indian Postal Orders (IPOs) are freely available. In some urban areas, one can still manage to get hold of one or two IPOs from a post office , this is impossible in a rural area of a town. If a person from a remote village of Kupwara wants to file an RTI application, he or she will have to travel all the way from his village to Kupwara town or Sopore to get the Indian postal order. This has happened to me personally and I always buy IPOs from General Post Office (GPO) Srinagar. How can we call this citizen-friendly? Had online RTI service been available in J&K like central Govt offices, people living in remote areas like Marwah in Kishtwar or Mandi in Poonch could also access information from Civil Secretariat , Raj Bhavan or any other office located in Jammu , Srinagar or District headquarter. To seek information through an offline mode, an RTI applicant has to travel to Govt offices , pay bus fare and then spend the whole day in the town. If he or she has to get a postal order (in case of non BPL applicants) then more money is needed to travel to district headquarters.
The Govt has not fulfilled its promise to make all the offline services digital by Jan 15th 2023. In addition, the circular issued by GAD in December 2022 on RTI implementation directing all public authorities to sensitize their Public Information Officers (PIOs) on the important provisions of the RTI law is restricted only to the papers as the Govt has failed to take any action on ground. The PIOs in Administrative Departments , Directorates or district offices are not being trained to implement the central laws extended to J&K especially the RTI. Same is the case with PSGA which is the erstwhile state law that has not been repealed post article 370 abrogation. Even the officers who have to enforce and implement laws like Forest Rights Act (FRA) , Consumer Protection Act , RTE, SC ST Atrocities Act 1989 are also not trained. The PIO in GAD has tried to play safe vis a vis RTI & PSGA has exposed the fact that Govt isn’t sincere to make sure central laws are implemented on ground and its benefits are given to people
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