At Kashmir University, RTI pleas delayed religiously

Junaid Nabi Bazaz

Srinagar: In the third week of February this year, Mohammad Azaan Dar filed an RTI (Right to information) application seeking information about his 15 queries from Kashmir University. Six months later, the Public Information officer (PIO) of the varsity is yet to provide the full information, which should have been given in a month.
And whatever little information was given piecemeal over these months is hardly satisfactory.
For instance, in one of the questions, Azaan had asked about the varsity’s rules that allow appointment of an outsider, a non-employee and non-academic with no research experience, as the head of an academic department.
The university’s reply, which says “there are no separate terms and conditions about such appointment”, throws no light on university’s procedure for appointments.
In another question, Azaan has asked for an order copy about a particular person’s appointment. The university replied that the order copy is attached with the reply, but it wasn’t.
Azaan received the copy a month later, after he approached the first appellate authority (FAA).
After the university failed to deliver the information within the stipulated 30 days, Azaan appealed to the FAA on March 19. Ten days later, seven out of his 15 queries were answered. However for the rest of the eight queries, the PIO wrote, “The information sought with regard to rest of the items does not exist in the concerned office.”
After a month, Azaan and PIO were called for a hearing by the FAA. Azaan was assured that he would get the entire information within five days, but received it more than a month later, that too of only two queries.
Azaan’s is not the only case. According to the chairman J&K RTI movement Dr Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, the university has denied information to about 1,600 applicants in 2013 alone.
Like Azaan, Dr Rasool has also filed an RTI regarding the same issue but he was denied it initially like Azan.
The varsity is yet to follow the guidelines, issued last year, directing suo moto disclosure of information under the RTI Act.
Asmat Kawoosa, the FAA, admitted there were problems in smooth disclosure of information. She said the system will be “streamlined soon”.
The varsity has not been friendly even with the kin of its own employees. After failing to issue a copy of an investigative team’s report on the death of former Controller of Examinations Professor Abrar Khan to his family, his son Faizan Khan filed an RTI application in 2012.
For the first few months, the authorities asked him to ‘to wait and cooperate with us’. Faizan then vainly appealed to the FAA and later approached the SIC with the second appeal. Despite three hearings, the university could not produce the report but only came up with contradictory statements.
First, the university told the SIC that it is looking for the report. Then, it stated no investigation was carried out. Finally, when the SIC took cognizance of these contradictory statements, it told the FAA to hear the case again.
“The case was heard but this time the university said the report has gone missing,” Faizan said.
“I informed the SIC about it, but nothing was done,” said Faizan who later took the case to the State Human Rights Commission.
However, the SIC blames Faizan, saying he should have filed the second appeal before the commission. While Faizan said he had done so, SIC’s conclusion report denies it.
Faizan is defiant. He said the SIC is hearing the case under the second appeal.
“How come the SIC is directing the university if I have not approached it under the second appeal,” asks Faizan.
Such complications arise because there should be no need for filing an RTI, as the information people like Azaan and Faizan needed should be readily available with the university officials, said Dr Rasool.
“It is not the prohibited information that would affect the integrity, security and sovereignty of the state. Rather, the institution will curb corruption by making such information available,” he said.
The solution to such delays, according to Dr Rasool, is to punish the officials who withhold information and by making people aware about how to pursue their cases to the end. These steps, he said, will foster accountability and transparency, the twin purposes of the RTI Act.
KU’s Public Information Officer Abdul Rashid Sofi said before the RTI Act came into force in 2009, old records were usually trashed. Since Prof Abrar’s death happened much before 2009, the inquiry report too might have been binned.
Sofi said the delay in releasing information happens because the request is sent to the departments concerned and that takes time.