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RTI a dead letter in J&K

The Right to Information Act of Jammu and Kashmir is in a state of suspended animation, reports Arun Joshi.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2007 19:10 IST
Arun Joshi

The Right to Information Act of Jammu and Kashmir is in a state of suspended animation. The government has promised that it would be revived to its full blooded life soon, but it has ruled out extension of the Central RTI Act of 2005 to the state.

The Article 370 confers special status on Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian union. No central law finds its automatic jurisdiction in the state unless approved by the state legislature.

Jammu and Kashmir was the first state to enact Right to Information law in 2004, much before the Indian Parliament passed it for rest of the country. But the law never really took off. Though it was put on statute book, its institutional mechanism was not worked out.

The Chief Information Commissioner of India, because of the Article 370, cannot entertain any complaint regarding the agencies and departments working under the Jammu and Kashmir Government.

Finance Planning Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Tariq Hameed Karra said, "The state RTI Act is under examination by a committee headed by law secretary and based on the recommendations of the panel, changes, if needed, would be effected to make it an effective tool of accountability and transparency in the state administration."

"The panel is looking each and every provision. It may not be in the same form as the central law because of the sensitivities involved because of Article 370. But it would be very effective," Karra said.

Extension of any central law is an emotive issue for Kashmir-centric political parties. Any such move is automatically dubbed as an erosion of the special status of the state. And at the time when Self Rule and Autonomy have become by-word for self assertion of Kashmiri identity, any further extension of the central laws is deemed to be a negative aspect of Jammu and Kashmir politics.

As the political considerations are weighing over the issue, those seeking information regarding the alleged corrupt practices of ministers and bureaucrats are a disappointed lot. Their complaints are tossed from one place to another.

This was the fate of the petitions of a social activist Raja Muzzaffar Bhat of Chadoora Budgam, who has been knocking doors to seek information on various scams in the state. But all he has been told is to move from one door to the other.

Among other scandals, he has a case of scam of rural electrification in which panchayats were not electrified, but fake bills were drawn and ministers and bureaucrats made money. The case is under investigation by the state’s vigilance organisation, but the top men have not been netted.

Bhat had also written a letter to Chief Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, (retired IAS officer of Jammu and Kashmir cadre) seeking his help in the matter, but he had to contend with the answer that the RTI Act of 2005 has no jurisdiction over Jammu and Kashmir.

"The absence of this law is perpetuating corruption in Jammu and Kashmir. But I would not be silent spectator, I will seek help of each and every one to get this law made more effective," he told Hindustan Times.

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First Published: Jan 05, 2007 19:10 IST