Implementation of RTI Act 2005 fails to help information seekers

Number of cases of no-response from authorities to various RTI applications have surfaced in Kashmir, as the non-strict implementation of Right to Information Act (2005) has created an atmosphere where the applications remain unanswered for months.

Under the Act, public information officer designated in every government department on the receipt of a request under Section 7 (1) shall provide information “as expeditiously as possible”. While, the Act also states that in any case the information has to be provided within 30 days of the receipt of the request by the particular government department, or either provide the information on payment of such fees as may be prescribed or also reject the request for any of the reasons specified in Section 8 and 9 of the act. The information sought must not be related to defence, national security, or personal details.

Following abrogation of J&K’s special status and subsequent bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories on 5 August 2019, numerous Central Laws were extended to the erstwhile state, including RTI Act 2005. The decision of Union Government made many laws including the erstwhile state’s own RTI Act 2009 redundant, leading to annulment of State Information Commission. 

In one case from Baramulla, an RTI application was filed by Siraj udin Salam to Deputy Custodians Evacuee property.  Salam had sought details and location of custodian evacuee property from 2016 to 2020.  In his application he had sought criteria and procedure adopted to lease out the evacuee property. Besides, his application also demanded income generated by the department, list of beneficiaries or people to whom the properties have been leased out. The application also demanded audited report of last three years from the concerned department. The application under the act was filed on 4 September 2020. However, there has been no reply from the concerned department till date.

In another case, Mushtaq Ahmad Lone had sought information under the act from the office of Block Development Officer Khag village in Budgam district. The applicant had sought details about beneficiaries under Indhra Awas Yojana (IAY) scheme in the block from 2011 to 2018. Besides, he had also sought details of various developmental works under 14 Financial Plan demanding photographs of “pre, during and post of the work done”. The RTI was filed through speed post on 14 August 2020. However, there has been no reply from the concerned authorities till date. There is also a case where Hilal Ahmad Wani had sought information from Chief Education Officer Budgam about a middle school in the district, scholarships to students, mid day meal scheme, amount spend on renovation of school buildings, and other details. Despite RTI being filed on 5 September 2020, there has been no reply from the concerned authorities.

In another instance, information sought by Mushtaq Ahmad Lone from DC office Budgam about money provided to the district’s power sector from 2018 to 2020. Besides, the application also sought details of the work carried by the PDD now Kashmir Power Department Corporation Limited (KPDCL) in the district’s villages, and also money spend on the rectification of damaged transformers.  Though RTI was filed on 19 September 2020, there has been no reply till date.

There is also a instance, wherein RTI application filed by Raja Muzaffar Bhat to Services Selection Recruitment Board SSRB about revenue collected by it from 2016 to 2020 on account of various kinds of fee collected from job aspirants, and also details about fee of various posts advertised for the period. Also, the application had sought details about posts for which fee was collected from job aspirants but the examination was never held, besides reasons for not holding these examinations. The RTI was filed on 21 September 2020. Though there was a reply from SSRB, but instead providing the information mandated under the Act, it replied on 28 September2020: “The RTI application was forwarded to the accounts section for providing the necessary information. The Accounts section has returned the file with plea that the information is lying at central office, JK SSB Jammu…” Despite passing over a month, the applicant has received no information.