J&K Government has issued the draft of a new Right to Information Act proposed to replace the state’s existing RTI Act. Is the proposed act strong enough to bring about required transparency in the state and give succour to victims of corruption and human rights violations? HAROON MIRANI analyses
When 68-year-old Chandigarh resident Veena Kohli was unable to believe that her son, Sumeet Kohli, a captain in Indian army had committed suicide while on duty in Kashmir, she asked for reports and documents related to the court of inquiry, post-mortem and inquest proceedings conducted after the officer’s death.
The army denied and Kohli tried the Right to Information Act. The Army replied that the officer had died on duty in Kashmir, where the central RTI Act was not applicable.
However, in February the Central Information Commission asked the Army to hand over the details to Kohli and passed an order that RTI Act would be applicable to all central agencies in spite of their location. The CIC order comes as relief for many human rights activists and victims of rights violations.
However, Jammu & Kashmir’s own RTI Act has long been criticised for being too weak to be effective in ensuring transparency in civil affairs, leave aside armed forces. Now the good news is that the state is proposing to replace the act by a stronger one. J&K incidentally is one of the most corrupt states in India. The draft of the proposed RTI Act 2009 is already out on the internet and government has sought suggestions for improvement.
The move, government claims will help in curbing the human rights violations and corruption in the state. Jammu & Kashmir is one of the most corrupt states in India. Legal experts and rights activists differ in opinion about the effectiveness of proposed act.
The Army and paramilitary forces posted in Jammu & Kashmir, aided by special laws, have not been cooperating in investigations of alleged rights violations in the state by hiding information that would be easily available in other states.
Muzaffar Bhat, an activist fighting for the strengthening of RTI act in Jammu and Kashmir at par with central act says,
“The new act will greatly help in making government accountable on billions spent on infrastructure or matters related to human rights violations.”
Bhat is associated with Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an international NGO fighting to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the countries of the Commonwealth, which has recommended several measures to strengthen the new act.
Activists like Bhat say the new law will empower a common man to acquire required information pressuring the fund swindlers.
“Government will have to provide detail of every penny spent on infrastructure, give details of other policies, plans, mode of recruitment of any person and almost everything affecting them,” says Bhat. Bhat is hopeful about help in human rights issues as well. “Suppose we want to get information about a disappeared person, so we file an application and government has to give information about that,” he says. Eminent lawyer Zaffar Shah agrees with Bhat. “After this strong state RTI law, one has the right to get the reports of inquiries, court martial, court proceedings in case of human rights cases. This was earlier not given to common men,” he says.
Experts stress that in any conflict zone the level of transparency should be very high, so that the people know what is happening around them, particularly in matters of life and death. “But if you make a law like state’s existing RTI act, where you keep the level of transparency very low, then the basic motive of this law gets killed,” says Shah.
However, human rights activist Pervez Imroz is sceptic about the new law. “I don’t think it will have any effect on the human