Gradually, the right to information act is becoming relevant to the society that, for centuries, has remained ignorant of what is happening around them. The lack of information about them has reached to the extent of ridiculous proportions in which sources of their history are scattered around the world and they are unable to get them together. But RTI can help them to know about many things that earlier was not possible.
Though J&K was the first state in India to manage the passage of the RTI act, it was perhaps the last one to implement it. Thank God, it has started yielding desired results. Driven by whatever motivation, some of the citizens have been able to extract a lot of information on various fronts. One latest piece of information is that as many as 2000 works, costing millions of rupees, were executed without tenders by R&B Department in last three years. These include 1000 works in Jammu district and 900 in Kashmir.
Another enthusiastic applicant was able to prove that in Branwar, Jabad and Neegu villages of Budgam agriculture officials faked signatures and thumb impressions of hundreds of residents to distribute seeds and saplings to choicest ones. These items cost crore of rupees. A farmer in Baramulla has filed an RTI application to know the status of the land being affected by the quarries in the Kandi Range. Prior to them a BPL man from Budgam managed to get the details of the expenditures the state is making in flying machines.
While people have been filing applications and the officials have been taking their own time to respond, there were instances in which applications were pending for almost a year but no response was given. In cases involving bureaucrats, the officials are taking security route to hide what they own.
But the most vital intervention came last week when CIC G R Sofi imposed a penalty of Rs 25000 on Abdul KabirNajar, an Assistant Registrar, SKUAST (K) who is the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) under section 17 of the RTI act. The costs came in the complaint of Nasar-ullah Shah, SampatPrakash and others. Najar had denied certain information to the applicant since October 2010. Though there was default of 323 days in offering the required information, CIC penalized for only 100 days at the rate of Rs 250 per day.
CIC’s action will send right signals to the employees of the J&K government that they can not hide things for a long time. It needs adequate publicity so that it gets registered with the people involved. The people associated with the RTI movement also need to chip in to help the word spread so that a law of the land is properly implemented on ground.