No right to information for J & K

BY zafar| IN Media Practice | 17/10/2006
Neither the State act passed in January 2004 nor the Central act are being implemented in J & K, almost three years down the line.
 

 

 

 

Zafar Choudhary

 

The identity of Jammu and Kashmir as a State that refuses to share power with people or devolve authority to the grassroots democratic institutions of governance can be seen in the regional and sub-regional dissensions that are present.

 

Over the last two and half years Jammu and Kashmir has assumed yet another unique identity -a State that refuses to share information with people. Nearly three years back, well before the Parliament of India passed the RTI Act, Jammu and Kashmir came up with a law on right to information. The enthusiasm of the government was so high that it did not wait for the routine legislature session, which begins February every year, to enact the law. It was on January 5, 2004 that the state government through an ordinance introduced the Right to Information Act, which was however, later ratified by the assembly as a piece of legislation. This was after many hiccups and debates, the Right to Information Act enacted by the Parliament of India was last year given a formal shape and a commission, under Wajahat Habibullah was set up to process and monitor the queries and complaints under the law. Ironically, owing to its special status all laws enacted by the Parliament do not necessarily extend to Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore the benefits of the Central Information Commission are yet to reach here even 34 months after the passing of  the law.

 

 At a time when the Right to Information Act was passed by the state legislature, the government had described it as major achievement in public accountability and transparency. The Act made it mandatory for all government departments to publish a citizen charter and designate special officers for sharing the required information with the public. However, nearly three years down the line, over 90 per cent of the departments, directorates and public bodies are yet to follow guidelines issued under the Act and issue the obligatory "Citizens Charter". Only three out of 133 Government Departments and public bodies have issued and publicised "Citizens Charter" containing the information they can provide to citizens and given it publicity through their websites and newspaper advertisements. Precisely 120 different departments and public bodies are yet to declare the citizen’s charter. About a dozen departments have also prepared the "Citizens Charter" but were yet to make it public or give it due publicity, required for the citizens.

 

In fact the government does not seem to be interested in sharing information with the public. This can be gauged from the reluctance of the law department, a department responsible for drafting the law on right to information, in declaring the citizen’s charter. Even the departments under the control of Chief Minister -including Home and General Administration -have not come up with a mechanism on sharing information with public.

 

The General Administration Department, which has overall control over all government departments and public bodies in implementation of  the  much publicised RTI Act, is still in the process of putting its "Citizens Charter" on its website. A GAD officer told the Excelsior that the Department was launching its website very soon and its "Citizens Charter" will also be put on the site. A GAD officer admitted that every department and public body was under obligation under Section 3 of the RTI Act to notify its "Citizens Charter" indicating what services it can provide to the people and how and what kind of information the people can seek from them, and every department was duty bound to publicise the Charter.

 

The State Vigilance Organisation (SVO) was the first Department to come out with its "Citizens Charter" under the RTI Act, followed by Police Department and Rural Development Department (RDD), in Kashmir Division. About a dozen other departments were also reported to have prepared their "Citizens Charter" but were yet to give it due publicity, as required for public awareness. Under Section 3 of the RTI Act, all government departments and public bodies were required to make the citizens aware of the services and facilities being provided to them by their departments, free of cost or otherwise. The procedures for obtaining information were also to be specified. 

 

All such information was to be put on websites by the departments and the public bodies which have their own website while other departments had to publicize the information through newspapers and other means.  

 

The State act also required departments or public bodies to publish or communicate to the general public or people  information about any government projects which would affect them..

 

 

The author is resident editor of the Jammu edition of  the English daily, Kashmir Images, and executive director of the Center for Media Research and Documentation at Jammu. He can be contacted at choudhary.zafar@gmail.com

 

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