Invoking RTI In J & K gets activists in trouble.
In today’s video, Community Correspondent and RTI Activist Sajad Rasool gives us an insight into the difficulties that people face while trying to access information under the Right to Information Act of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Right to Information Act aims “to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens.” The Act provides that any citizen can easily access information related to the functioning of a “public body”, which includes a government body or a state instrument.
The Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act came into effect in March 2009, four years after the Act was passed in the rest of the country. Although the J&K Act is relatively similar to the one functioning in other states, some differences, like the payment of Rs. 50 by Kashmiri citizens as application fee, compared to Rs. 10 for the Central Act, make it more difficult for those in Kashmir to access their right to information.
“The roots of democracy are strengthened only when a country has informed citizenry. The Right to Information Act, which was passed by the J&K state assembly in 2009 is playing a key role in unearthing corrupt officials, frauds and scandals. However, harassment of RTI users and activists has also begun in the state.”
Arif Shah, a research scholar in the Kashmir University, was attacked violently after he filed an RTI for information related to the appointment of a girl in a SKIMS. This attack, carried out by a family member of the selected girl in question, proved that the institution of RTI had been corrupted. He was then harrased by univ. & assaulted agian when filed another RTI in univ. to track his research synopsis
Arif refused to withdraw his RTI application, but when he was presented with the necessary information, it was false, incomplete information, contradictory in nature. Although the State Information Commission has initiated an inquiry into Arif’s claims, the results are yet to be seen.
“Activists have found it very difficult to function smoothly in Kashmir.” says Sajad. Although the RTI is a great and significant tool, and its proper use could have profound results on society, corrupt people have managed to tamper with it. This has left activists in a vulnerable position.”
Sajad, an RTI activist himself, has filed many RTI applications against the Education Department, the Social Welfare Department and the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Department.
“I faced a lot of harassment when I had applied for information on the appointment of an Anganwadi worker. The worker had been appointed in an area that she did not belong to, whereas the law clearly states that it is mandatory to appoint those of the same community in an Anganwadi. The worker’s relatives threatened to physically assault me, causing my family a lot of trauma.”
Sajad believes that only when laws to protect RTI activists become more stringent will the RTI Act be of any significance. “Today, corruption has the upper hand. But I shall not give up until justice prevails, and neither will activists like Arif.”