'Right to Information in Kashmir beset with problems' | india | Hindustan Times
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'Right to Information in Kashmir beset with problems'

Six months have elapsed since the Omar Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir brought out the J&K Right to Information Act 2009, but it remains a non-starter till date, claim activists.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2009 11:26 IST

Six months have elapsed since the Omar Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir brought out the J&K Right to Information (JKRTI) Act 2009, but it remains a non-starter till date, claim activists.

The state government has not set up an information commission as yet and several government departments have not appointed Public Information Officers, they allege.

"Initially, the state government showed a lot of promise towards making RTI a success, but it is not the same now. The act is beset with infrastructural problems in the state," Delhi-based RTI activist Manish Sisodia told IANS.

The JKRTI Act 2009, prepared on the lines of the central RTI Act 2005, came into force in March replacing the 2004 act and the J&K RTI (amendment) Act 2008.

Sisodia recently went to Jammu to attend an RTI programme where people shared their problems in using RTI.

"The basic problem people are facing is that the government has as yet not appointed Public Information Officers (PIOs) in several departments. Whenever people go to submit their RTI application, the government officials tell them, 'Come later when a PIO is appointed'. Implementation is a big problem with the JKRTI act," Sisodia added.

Voicing the same concern, Jammu-based RTI crusader Niyamat Ali said, "PIOs have not been appointed in a lot of offices. When I went to submit my RTI application, they refused to accept it and told me to come later."

Raja Muzaffar Bhat, a dentist by profession and convener of the J&K RTI movement, said: "The government has not even appointed the Information Commission as yet, which is a very important part of the RTI act."

The most discouraging part is the high fees people have to shell out for the RTI application and for photocopying documents, the activists said.

"Under the J&K act, an applicant has to give Rs.50 as application fee as compared to Rs.10 under the central RTI Act. And for photocopies of documents, they have to shell out Rs.10 per page as compared to Rs.2 under the central act," Sisodia said.

"How can poor people be expected to afford such high fees," he added.

The activists also allege that the government is not doing enough to create awareness among the people about the act and it has not even conducted any training programme for its officials.

"Government officials are ignorant about key provisions of the RTI act," said Bhat.

"We have written so many letters to Omar Abdullah and his government to correct the flaws in implementation of the RTI. But nothing has happened. The government has failed to even involve civil society in improving the state RTI act," Bhat added.

He said: "As per the act, reply to an RTI application has to be made within 30 days. But here an official generally takes 50-60 days, which is completely unacceptable."

However, the state government denies there are any problems with implementing RTI.

Khawaja Farooq Renzu, director (information) with the Jammu and Kashmir government, told IANS: "Our government is very active on RTI and transparency is the slogan of our chief minister. It is wrong to say that our government is not doing anything on RTI. Our RTI act is working completely fine. Even in his first speech after taking over, our chief minister underlined the importance of RTI."

On the state not having an information commissioner, Renzu said: "Our government is contemplating appointing an information commissioner, but in the meantime the district administrations are replying all queries under the RTI."

Another senior government official said: "Four years have passed since the central RTI act came into effect, but it is still facing implementation problems. It has just been six months since our act came into force; give us some time. We are very serious in making RTI a success in our state."