J&K RTI: An eye-wash – Ayaz Mughal – The Northlines – 22 July 2010

The corruption as assumed by the people is mono-faced and limited to taking bribe. But the fact is that it has a multi-dimensional connotation which enfolds delay in disposal of even primary issues, dereliction of duties, miasmic administration of justice, sometimes unjustified decisions, encouraging caste-based politics and community considerations, misusing powers for ulterior motives and above frequently notable anarchy of work culture, accountability and transparency in regard to the public affairs. The politicians, the bureaucrats and the government officials at the gross-root level are, somewhere responsible for the eruption of this obnoxious pestilence of corruption and if we have a deep insight into the state of our affairs, we will be shocked to find this deadly disease seeped into the blood of the entire civil society in general and India in particular. Black money has become the symbol & fashion of high society bureaucrats and politicians which has rendered a irreparable set back to the economy of our country leaving more than 20 crores people of nation thriving on left-over crumbs and many of them starving every day. Our society is marked by the complete moral and ethical degradation and scathing erosion of human values.
Under such circumstances the poor public is bound to pin its hopes and repose its confidence in the Government that has been formed by the dint of their votes. And the govt. is not genuinely serous about it. Where will the public go and beat its head, the matter is of great concern. Non administration of justice to the public even from the spacious corridors of absolute powers is the most likely to snowball into a great confusion and chaos in the system with the bigger amount of adverse impact on the Government. Our democratic age of our country is 60 years and as old is our J&K State too. But it is the time for us all to introspect and see whether it is the same country which our national stalwarts like Gandhi, Patel, Azad and others had dreamt of. Could we take proper care of values and culture these great souls had entrusted to us after the appearance of a new sun on the on the horizon of free India? Could our leader design their lives on the patterns of their political ancestors? Is our country really an abode of peace and harmony, justice and honesty? Our country has been rated as rated as in topmost corruption countries of the world and even worse is the plight our state. The Governments come after every spell for six years with revised promises but set an example of the same routine negligence doing nothing meaningful. Till yesterday we were exploited by the British imperialism and today we are being subjected to the tortures of our own people. For a common person it is all the same. The Black and White Governments are simply the two sides of the same coin with not even bit of difference in between. Actually in our country and State the concept of national politics has dwindled into the motive of money and power politics. Our leaders want make their generations comfortable in a single stroke of power since they are quite diffident about future in view of their quivering sensibilities. After all what steps have been taken so far to stem the over burgeoning tide of rampant corruption? What and if have initiated something to check, have we ever been serious about the results? Do we really want to make ours a corruption-free state? A host of questions crop up in a fertile mind but with no suitable at all. The character of our state is being called in question. Merely framing laws, publishing them in the government gazettes and delivering impressive speeches do not make any positive difference to the society at all. It is right time for implementation and enforcement of laws in letter and spirit. Strengthening confidence in the masses is the matter of great concern for the coalition government who is surviving under the shades of very tough opposition and our leaders will have to practically prove that they are not play foul with their public.
The J&K Right to Information Act, 2009 came into force on 20 March 2009, repealing and replacing the erstwhile J&K Right to Information Act, 2004 and the J&K Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2008. The Act is based closely at par with Central RTI Act of 2005. With the advent of RTI, a ray of hope emerged among the masses but the point to be noted is that a major chunk of our population is not at all aware of what this RTI is about and majority of those who understand its objectives do not have much courage to come forward for their certain vested interests. Actually The RTI legislation took a big amount of time reach its final stage after surpassing many hurdles and threadbare discussions. The delay in its finalization speaks the language of some of our selfish leaders and holds a mirror to their intentions. RTI is basically an instrument to strengthen the voice of people and ensure the fair and frank functioning of the state-craft. It was an attempt to invigorate the people’s democracy. This Act empowers a citizen to have a check on the activities of the Government and examine the government records, take stock of the performance of the administration and play a vital role in providing corruption-free atmosphere in the state and transparent functioning of the government but unfortunately nothing of the sort has happened till now. It will not be out of place to call it merely an eye-wash and a foul play with the innocent public of this state. Isn’t that the government feels helpless in implementing the law. Coalition government headed by Omar Abdullah is feeling the political pressure from the infected elements of the society who are presently enjoying the impunity under all circumstances. All promises, initially, made by the state government regarding its immediate implementation have ended in a smoke with no tangible results at all for the reasons best known to them.
One more question which has been striking the understanding minds in relation to the appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner. Obviously the Chief Information Commissioner has to an absolute authority in the state that has to work fairly and fearlessly. He will is bound to be as independent in the conduct of inquiry proceedings as the Chief Electoral Officer. But the Govt. has, till now, failed to fill up this vacancy for the reasons best known to it. Government’s intention to have an Information Commissioner from within the state may be one of the reasons behind this abnormal delay. Government may be afraid of the disclosure of most of the political and bureaucratic dons involved in corruption and that is why some one from outside the state is being imported for this positions. It is because the most the officers from out side the have happened to a little headstrong in formulating the procedures. It somewhere sounds about the diffidence and guilty intention of our Govt. The most discouraging part of RTI act is that people have to shell out for the RTI application and for photocopying documents. The information seeker should necessarily be J&K state subject and has to pay a fee of Rs. 50 along with application on prescribed form which is too high as compared to that of Central RTI Act. Central RTI act charges Rs. 10 for the same. Again to get the copies of the government records, the state subject has to pay Rs. 10 per copy of A-4 or A-3 size paper while under Central RTI Act, the prescribed fee is only Rs 2. If a citizen requires information loaded on a diskette or a floppy, he or she has to pay Rs 75. The fee for such kind of job under Central RTI Act is only Rs. 50. It indicates insincerity of Govt. in regard to the implementation of this Act.
It is inferred that coalition government headed by Omar Abdullah utterly fails to seek and appoint an Information Commissioner despite lapse of a significant amount of time. Despite advice by CIC Govt. of India Wajahad Habibullah, the structure of High fee has not been reduced which proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the present coalition government is least interested in receiving complaints from its people. In my opinion RTI Act 2009 will meet the same fate as that of State Accountability Commission (SAC) which at presents is like dead horse or tooth less tiger.
Moreover, the tall claim of government that reply to an RTI application has to be made within 30 days but it takes more than two months as a whole when found in practice.
If our Govt. is really serious about creating an atmosphere of transparency, work-culture and accountability conducive to the birth of a corruption free state ensuring the proper administration of justice, it is right time to give a practical shape to the pre-election manifesto of promises and enforce RTI Act with immediate effect. The forthwith implementation of this Act, in letter and spirit, will work a lot in giving a positive dimension to the Govt. functioning. The mode of payment should be made more convenient and the information and official records should be digitized and uploaded on websites. It will not only save time of the people and the officials but is likely to leave constructive impact on the functioning of our Govt. Online acceptance and replying of applications, updating the status of application may prove to be successful in weeding out the corrupt practices in the society.

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