The section 4 (1) of Right to Information Act (RTI Act 2005) impresses upon all the public authorities to computerize and digitize its official record so that the same is connected through a network all over the country on various systems. This means that the entire Govt record had to be uploaded on the official websites so that its access is facilitated. Section 4 (1) reads as :
Every public authority shall— a) maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated.
It is now almost 16 years since this legal provision was incorporated in the RTI Act 2005 and if a public authority, especially a Government Department does not digitize or upload the information or official record on its website , what can we call it ? Any educated and law-knowing person can equate this with violation of the RTI Act 2005 , misgovernance and sheer incompetence of the public authority.
In one of my previous articles titled “Rigmarole of section 6 (3) of RTI”, I had mentioned how public authorities misuse the section 6 (3) of RTI Act 2005 by forwarding RTI applications to different offices and thus denying the information. I had quoted a case related to Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) wherein an information seeker who sought information from PMO about a road project in his village in Budgam was denied information by the Executive Engineer PMGSY Budgam even as the RTI reached to him from PMO office via Ministry of Rural Development and his Chief Engineer with a weeks time. Even as I write this piece the information has not been provided to the applicant.
ExEn sits on RTI
The information sought by information seeker Mushtaq Ahmad Lone should otherwise have been uploaded on the official website of the PMGSY division Budgam also called Project Implementing Unit (PIU). In-spite of the fact that Chief Engineer PMGSY Kashmir directed his Executive Engineer in Budgam vide official communication number : CE/ PMGSY/ PS / 1928-32 dated July 1st 2021 to provide the copy of the detailed project report (DPR) of Surasyar Goggee Pathri road to the RTI applicant. After a lapse of almost 3 months , the information has not been provided to Mushtaq. The Executive Engineer instead started an investigation to know whether the applicant has a genuine BPL ration card or not ?
The applicant had in fact provided a copy of his priority household (PHH) ration card to the officer and had attached the copy of the same with his initial RTI application filed online in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Neither the PMO raised any query nor did the Ministry of Rural Development or National Rural Infrastructure Development Agency (NRIDA) question the authentication of Mushtaq’s PHH ration card as it is registered on the PDS web-portal as well.
The Executive Engineer PMGSY Budgam after getting the direction from his boss (Chief Engineer) on July 1st 2021 to provide the information sat on the letter for 33 days and on August 4th 2021 he wrote a letter to Tehsil Supply Officer (TSO) Food Department Chadoora to look into genuineness of the BPL ration card of Mushtaq Ahmad Lone. The officer seems to be unaware that under National Food Security Act (NFSA) there is no concept of BPL ration cards and the same is called priority household ration card (PHH) and the details of all the PHH, Antodaya (AAY) consumers is uploaded on the web portal of public distribution system www.jkepds.nic.in. This is the only authentic information accepted by all the Govt agencies for various entitlements.
Mushtaq repeatedly requested the Executive Engineer to cross check his ration card details on the web portal but he had time to do that and instead chose an obsolete way of cross checking the same. Mushtaq also got his PHH ration slip countersigned and stamped from the Tehsil Supply Officer (TSO) of the Food Department and emailed the same to the Executive Engineer but he still didn’t provide the information ?
Even as September is coming to end the Executive Engineer has not got any response from TSO , with the result information under RTI had also not been provided to Mushtaq. The erring officer who is the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) under RTI Act 2005 seems to be unaware that information has to be provided within 30 days only and now it is more than 3 months and Mushtaq has not been provided the information (copy of DPR of PMGSY road) which otherwise should have been uploaded on Govt websites.
Intention is to suppress information
Unfortunately not even a single PMGSY division in J&K has an official website where people can get the information about various road projects. There are complaints about use of substandard material and the same could have been verified and cross checked with DPRs but this is not provided. One is unable to even find a dedicated website for PMGSY Kashmir. The district websites operated by Deputy Commissioners office also have no DPR details of PMGSY or R&B (PWD) roads. This is a clear violation of section 4 (1) of RTI Act 2005. It seems Executive Engineer PMGSY Budgam isn’t able to accept the fact that people belonging to economically weaker sections can also seek a copy of the DPR or can communicate via email etc. If the PMO or Chief Engineers office didn’t raise a question about the authenticity of Mushtaq’s ration card , how can an Executive Engineer do that ? Even if he wanted to probe into the genuineness of the ration card the same could have been done within an hour by going to the Govt website on public distribution system (PDS) but it is clear that his intention is actually to suppress the information so that people don’t know actual specifications of the Surasyar Goggee Pathri road?
The Right to access the information is a universal human right which is necessary for enjoyment of other human rights. This is essential for transparent and accountable Government. This right makes possible the public involvement in decision making processes of governance. If an officer supresses the information , he is infact supressing our basic human rights as well.On this international Right to Know day I urge upon the Lt Governor of J&K to strengthen RTI institution in J&K. He must direct all the DCs, Directors , Chief Engineers and other HODs to make voluntary disclosure of the DPRs of all the developmental projects on their official websites. We will also take up this matter with the Central Information Commission (CIC) by lodging a formal complaint against the erring officer. Mushtaq has now lodged a formal complaint in J&K Government Grievance Cell against the Executive Engineer.....
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement