After leading a controversial life as an RTI activist in Kashmir, Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat has joined the opposition PDP. In this exclusive interview, he tells SAIMA BHAT his role as an RTI activist is far from over.
KL: Now that you have joined PDP, do you think your job as an RTI activist is over?
RM: No it’s not over. I will be an RTI activist till I am alive. We did RTI activism for seven years. We worked on three fronts of RTI Act. Awareness, advocacy and its implementation. We ensured that a new RTI Act got enacted and the SIC was constituted. We had basically recommended the name of Mr G R Sufi for the Chief Information Commissioner’s post. Now people are using the act to get information and SIC is functioning. At this point, I thought that my job as Convener, J&K RTI Movement, was over and I needed to focus on other issues for which entering politics was very important. I joined PDP which I think is most reasonable political party and people still remember “Woh Teen Saal” of Mufti Sahib.
KL: You started the RTI activism in Kashmir. People came and joined. Now you have joined politics and you will be seen as a mainstream politician. People in general won’t see your actions without motive. How you will manage?
RM: Yes I have a motive to ensure PDP comes to power and gives good governance to people. I ask the people of J&K; is there any other alternative that without electing a government, our roads will be constructed, power will be supplied, and jobs will be provided to people? No. It’s not possible. We have to see which party can deliver and I thought PDP was the only option. We must strengthen the PDP so that we get transparent & clean governance.
KL: As the chief activist of RTI movement in Kashmir, tell us about some interesting experiences. Was there any such moment when the filing of RTI was instrumental in changing the situation?
RM: I have hundreds of instances. We made a Sarpanch to repay 5.55 lakhs back to government treasury which he had swindled under Indira Awaas Yojna Scheme (IAY). This has never happened. We ensured transparency in IAY cheque distribution. Our RTI activist, Bashir Ahmad Malik of Khag, made CM accountable by seeking details of his official helicopter. The CM curtailed his chopper rides after that.
KL: There is a fresh amendment in the RTI Act 2010 which was made public in recent past. The rules spread over 27 pages stand discarded. Instead, new rules are on only six pages. Was it needed? The state’s chief information commissioner G.R Sofi accused the government of making unnecessary changes to make state information commission (SIC) a “toothless body”. Is this going to create a wedge?
RM: Such changes were made to clip the wings of state information commission which had power to summon top officials including even the Chief Secretary. Mr Sufi had summoned CS, Madhav Lal, in Jammu in connection with non-implementation of section 4 of J&K RTI Act 2009 and the changes in rules are result of that. The government doesn’t want to strengthen institutions like SIC or other commissions like SAC, SHRC etc
KL: Your work as RTI activist has earned you the fellowship on Right to Information Act (RTI) from the Department of Personnel and Trainings (DoPT) Government of India. Tell us about the experience?
RM: The fellowship was granted to me for my sincere work and dedication towards the cause of RTI in J&K for seven years. Only four activists from India were selected.
KL: You were denied interlocutors report by home ministry even when you claimed that it was ready to be published. The figures on custodial disappearance since 1990 also were denied to you. Where else did the RTI fail?
RM: It was our RTI application which pressurized the government of India and the report was made public within two months of my filing of RTI application. The RTI didn’t fail. Regarding custodial disappearances, I got the details later after CIC intervened. Now his wings have been clipped by government. I think the mass graves and custodial disappearances orders by CIC the reason for changing the RTI rules in J&K.
KL: Under section 23 of J&K RTI Act 2009, the government is under legal obligation to create awareness among masses for using Right to Information Act but nothing significant has been done. What needs to be done?
RM: That is why I joined politics. If PDP comes to power in J&K in 2014, this awareness will be created in every nook and corner of the state. Mark my words. I have been assured by the party leadership on this. I will conduct RTI workshops and seminars for party activists. I have visited Doda, Kishtwar, Poonch, Rajouri and motivated youth wings of PDP for these programs and Mufti sahab and Mehbooba ji are fully cooperating with me on these issues.
KL: It is believed that the government has failed in making pro active disclosure under section 4 (1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009. How far it is correct and if yes what are the loop holes?
RM: Section 4 (1) (b) of J&K RTI Act 2009 sought proactive disclosure of information by June 2009 but it has been more than three years now. Nothing has been done to make transparency about the different schemes of centre and state government in the form of notice boards, hoardings, etc. The Chief Secretary was reluctant and civil society and various other parties were building pressure after which he was summoned by the CIC. Our CM is tech savvy and keeps on tweeting but when one looks at the different government websites, one gets frustrated. Even the official website of the government is not working. Nothing is available there despite of having a full-fledged IT department working on it. It happens only in J&K. You can see the district websites of far flung areas of India and see how upgraded they remain.
KL: If the Government is very much sensitive about Public Service Guarantee Act (PSGA) and the whole state machinery is involved in its implementation which is good! But at the same time one fails to understand why the government is not showing same enthusiasm with regard to RTI?
RM: Omar Abdullah says we gave new RTI law & Public Services Guarantee Act to people. But on the other hand, his government clips the wings of SIC by changing rules. PSGA is not working on the ground. RTI awareness is not done because it exposes the wrong deeds of the government and PSGA only helps a single person as he/she gets his work in revenue, PHE, PDD, etc done. But RTI exposes everyone.
KL: Politics is the last refuge of the scoundrel. What prompted you to join politics when you were helping people at grass root level as an RTI activist? How do you see future of RTI in Kashmir?
RM: Since the last year, most people who come to our weekly meetings at our office in Chadoora tell me their problems which are not related to RTI. 90 per cent issues were related to fake appointments, unemployment, land disputes, village fights and police and security force atrocities. I just got mad. In fact, the people asked me to enter politics. I thought I can play a better role in politics if I work honestly as I worked in RTI Movement. My intention was clear. I am in politics for the sake of people. When a man in our area was stripped by a Sarpanch from NC and his goons, the RTI didn’t help him. His mother’s hair was plucked out and his wife beaten. He left his village and lived as a migrant in another village. I was helpless. I had two options. Either I had to pick up gun or join politics. On Facebook, people tell me all negative things but my Allah knows why I entered politics. There is a Gundaa Raaj and we cannot fight it through Facebook or gossiping at Coffee shops
KL: Your detractors’ claim that you were in an agreement with a local daily to file RTIs whose replies were only published in that newspaper and not circulated to others as well. Some people claim that you were targeting a particular section of bureaucracy and political leadership for personal gains? How do you react to such allegations?
RM: People will say such things. It is their work to spread rumors. We all have to stand before our Lord one day and I will catch their collars and tell my Almighty; Oh Allah! These people used to spread false rumors about me. Give me justice. I cannot say anything now.