Our RTI law is safe

After the recent amendments to Right to Information Act 2005, some unscrupulous Government officials are trying their best to mislead people especially the RTI applicants living in remote areas of J&K state. This piece is aimed at clearing the confusion among people and Government officials both. I am getting phone calls from several places of state where some corrupt Government officials are spreading rumors that RTI Act has been abolished by Modi Government. For information of people I want to make it clear that RTI law has neither been abolished nor repealed but it has been bit amended. The said amendment is not going to hamper people from seeking information from Government offices as the amendment is concerned with tenure, salary and stature of Information Commissioners at center and states except J&K. For information of people I want to reiterate that RTI Act 2005 (central law) is not applicable to Jammu & Kashmir state as we have our own RTI law called J&K RTI Act 2009. So Government offices under control of J&K Government won’t be affected by the recent amendments.

Case study from Doda

Few days back I got a phone call from an information seeker, namely Mohammad Tayyab Ganai a resident of village Jangwar Tehsil Phagsoo District Doda. Tayyab had filed an application in the office of Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Thathri to seek details of compensation provided to people affected by  a PMGSY road project. Information seeker wanted to get details of compensation for road project from Thathri to Dadi Kathwara.  The SDM forwarded the RTI application to local Tehil office. When Tayyab tried to contact the in-charge official of RTI section in Tehsil office Thathri who is a Girdawar in Revenue Department, the official misled the information seeker by telling him “ Modi ne RTI khatam kar diyaa hai . Abb koi Information nahe milaygee” (RTI has been revoked by Modi, now you can’t get any information). Tayyab being a smart guy asked for the Government order, which the Girdawar could not produce.  “This is happening with an educated man like me, what can we expect from such officials when poor disadvantaged and illiterate come to their office to seek information under RTI,” Tayyab told me on phone

Recent amendment in RTI Act

Under the recent amendments in RTI Act 2005, the law has not been revoked or repealed at all. The provision of penalty still exists. Opposition still has a role in selection of Information Commissioners. The amendments have affected the role of Information Commission but this won’t affect J&K State Information Commission (SIC) at all as RTI Act 2005 is not applicable to us. We have our own RTI law in operation from 2009 called J&K RTI Act 2009.  Under new amendments information seekers can very much seek information under even central RTI Act 2005. Only thing is that there is a fixed tenure, rank / status and remuneration of Information Commissioners which will now be decided by Govt of India .

Under RTI Act 2005 Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners of Central and State Information Commissions had a fixed term of five years or max upper age limit of 65 years. The new amendment is aimed at changing  this fixed tenure as term “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government” has been incorporated.

Conclusion

Government of J&K particularly the General Administration Department (GAD) must issue an official statement and clear doubts about recent RTI amendment so that people living in J&K are not mislead by vested interested people. An official circular must be issued asking Government officials to desist from misleading people by spreading rumours that RTI law has been revoked. J&K RTI Act 2009 is very much safe and secure as the recent amendments are not applicable to offices under control of J&K Government.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder & Chairman of J&K RTI Movement