The Jammu & Kashmir state enacted its own J&K RTI Act on 20 March 2009 that is, the J&K RTI ACT 2009. The central RTI act is applicable on Central offices functioning in state. A draft bill was tabled on 7th of March 2009, and passed by the legislative assembly and the Legislative council by 12th of March, 2009. The rules to the act were gazetted on 6th of June 2009. After being gazetted , the Jammu and Kashmir state Government appointed Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Assistant Public information officers (APIOs) as first appellant authorities. The Act repealed and replaced the erstwhile J&K RTI Act, 2004 and The J&K RTI Act, 2008. The Act is based closely upon the Central Right to Information Act, 2005. Like all RTI legislation, it is intended to provide citizens of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with a mandate mechanism for obtaining Government records.
But, the irony is that Jammu and Kashmir is the only region where the RTI Act conspicuously failed to create any enthusiasm, as a number of cases are still pending and it had been reported that the information seeker’s here vehemently refuted to provide any information under RTI Act by various officials of Government Departments and Allied Institutes. As the information seekers who had filled the litigation under RTI Act, had taken their concerns into the offices of concerned authorities by representations, but still these officials had not taken any cognizance and the grievances still so far have remained unanswered. It seems like that the J&K RTI Act is completely lagging rather than implementing its basic purpose, as number of RTI applicants have been frozen by concerned departments, by not providing information to the information seekers in a legal way.
Recently, I visited to the administrative office, where I had witnessed that the information seeker was in conversation with the official, who was dealing with such cases. The information seeker wanted to enquire about the delay in information processing. Instead of accepting the facts and settling or solving the issue, the official threw a tantrum and traumatized the information seeker. Watching this immature attitude of the official, put me in great distress: how these employees are spoiling the credibility of their own institution?
In a number of cases, the information seekers were traumatized and the officials used abusive language rather than solving or settling the issue.
In contrast, various local news papers have published the news items regarding the unholy attitude and negligence shown by various government departments to various RTI applications. Recently, an English daily had reported that despite the orders by the Honorable High Court, the state Government had failed to compensate the Tosa Maidan firing range victims. Last year, on hearing a Public Interest Litigation PIL, the Division bench of Honorable High Court had directed the Union and State Government to provide compensation to affected victims. But, the fact is that the information provided to an information seeker Irfan Ali Banka , who is chairman of J&K RTI Foundation, revealed that till now the compensation has not been given to affected families.
According to print media reports, Deputy Commissioner, Budgam, has written to the Secretary to Government Department of Disaster Management Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction and sought guidance/instructions for compensation of the affected victims. But, this has not happened till now.
Some information seekers have also taken to social Media to express their disappointment about their experiences with the officials of various Government Departments and allied agencies. The concerned Government officials must know that they are the part of their institution and the public must be treated in a dignified manner. Even though, it would be wrong to paint everyone with same brush, the majority of the officials in Government Departments, Allied Agencies do it on daily basis. It would be better for J&K Government, to retain all collective focus on RTI applications. There is also a dire need for making strict laws, for such unhealthy behaviour shown by the officials while denying the information to information seekers, so that law can take its own course.
The author is a Srinagar based freelance Journalist and a member of J&K RTI Foundation. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org