‘RTI a great tool for empowering citizens’

‘RTI a great tool for empowering citizens’
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JKRTI celebrates 14 years of RTI movement at KU

Kaiser Majeed/ Rajah Aasim

SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Movement in collaboration with Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) celebrated 14 years of RTI movement here at Centre for Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, on Tuesday.
Under the banner of “14 Years of the RTI in J&K”, the long one day seminar was attended by former Chief Information Commissioner WajahatHabibullah, Information Commissioner Professor Sridhar Acharyulu, Prof. GN Khaki, and Director Centre for Central Asian Studies (CCAS). Among the participants were RTI activists, Civil Society Members, Human Rights Activists, Faculty members, advocates, scholars and students.
Prof.Acharyulu said that RTI is a great tool for empowering citizens. He appreciated the enthusiastic manner in which activists were using the RTI Act in J&K to demand greater transparency and accountability in the government, especially in far flung villages of the state.
“RTI is like a ten rupee PIL in the hands of citizens who can use it to seek and obtain information about public interest matters,” he said.
Prof.Acharyulu urged the academic community and transparency advocates to analyse the decisions of Courts and Information Commissions to assess whether they are in tune with the letter and spirit of the RTI Act. “While it has become commonplace for many governments to challenge in courts, decisions of Information Commissions directing disclosure, citizens are not able to challenge refusals due to lack of legal assistance and inadequate resources,” he lamented.
Chairperson J&K RTI Movement, Sheikh GhulamRasool, invited students and conscientious citizens to join the RTI movement in the state and use the law to expose corruption and instances of mal- governance in the state.
“As of now 68 RTI activists have been allegedly murdered for seeking information about wrongdoing in government in other parts of India,” he said.
WajahatHabibullah, former Information Commissioner, also urged government to appoint sincere and honest candidates as Information Commissioners from other fields of specializations mentioned in the act. He said that all the information was required to be disclosed unless exempt under section 8.
Students of department of Law also presented the preliminary findings of an analysis of 250 decisions of the J&K State Information Commission issued between April 2017 and January 2018. ShikhaChhibbar, programme officer and the students pointed out that more than 58 percent of the appeals and complaints were related to matters of public interest.
They also pointed out that while the J&KSIC had issued penalty show cause notices in 19 cases, penalty was yet to be imposed on any officer. In fact, in more than 46% cases they studied, “penalty should have been imposed as the PIO had simply not replied to the RTI applications or had refused to comply with the directions issued by the first appellate authorities to disclose the information,” they said.
The study was undertaken by the KU students during their internship at CHRI in February, 2018. They pointed out that only 7% of the cases were filed before the J&KSIC by women, showing the poor levels of awareness about RTI among them.

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