In my last opinion published in the Greater Kashmir on March 31, 2020 entitled “RTI in the times of virus”, I had tried to explain the importance of pro-active disclosure of information by Government related to Covid-19. The more the information is withheld, the more the problems occur. The government of India is launching different websites, mobile apps and messaging services asking for contributions, support and help in finding probable corona cases, but is not taking measures to aware people in other respects related to corona. I and Raja Muzaffar are recommending again and again for a separate website related to Corona-19, wherein whole information shall be made available for people, including the information related to public contributions, expenditures, corona cases, grievances of people in corona days, information of stuck people at different location and their grievances, grievance redressal mechanism and much more.
There are “many Kashmiri Students” who were first quarantined at Iran and then flown to India after tests by Indian Embassy in Iran last month. I write “many Kashmiri Students”, because it is not clear to me yet that how many Kashmiri students are quarantined at Jaisalmer Rajasthan for last 21 days. This confusion over numbers is arising because of lack of appropriate information. Different news reports are confusing to a common man and people like me actually need information in a readable, clear and understandable format. Different newspapers, both local and national, have reported that these students were not kept at a separate quarantine centre when brought from Iran, but were put at the same location as that of the Pilgrims who were also evacuated from Iran. Even if the Indian Army Wellness Centre at Jaisalmer has its own SOP and are taking care of the students there as per TUMS Students’ information, but certain questions arise in our minds. Why the students were kept at the same place where there were other pilgrims who were more probable corona carriers and among whom certain persons have tested positive? People want to know, if as per reports ten people have tested positive for corona, why the rest of the students are not sent back to their homes where they can further self-quarantine themselves? People want to know, why an official statement is not coming from Home Ministry or State Government related to the Kashmiri students stranded in Rajasthan?
The parents of these students have recently held a protest at Srinagar asking for the reasons over further quarantining of their children at Rajasthan. The lack of information has created stress not among the parents only, but also among the students held at Rajasthan and the people here. The students are not well aware if they are corona negative or positive, because the reactions of the government and their negligence are making them worry. If the students are believed, there is quite hot temperature nowadays in Jaisalmer and they were not prepared mentally for such a prolonged stay at Rajasthan, especially when all the students have tested negative to coronavirus. There are many girls who are facing health issues because of the dust there and the anxiety plus loneliness may affect the health of these students.
I don’t want government to put lives of people in danger because of the probable corona cases among people coming from affected areas, but at the same time, I cannot ignore the negligence of the government and the continued withholding of appropriate and accurate information. If there is any mismanagement in handling the students stuck at Rajasthan, who is responsible and what action has been taken by the government? According to newspaper reports, a group of parents on Friday even approached Kashmir’s Divisional Commissioner P K Pole to seek his intervention in clearing decks for their wards’ homecoming. He told them that the students can’t be brought back to Valley because of the lockdown. Is that a reason? We need to know why government is not issuing a formal statement. If the government is having Disaster Management Cell, why can’t they arrange the transport exclusively for these students, if not flights? Why the government is not publishing a factual report related to the stranded students outside states or outside country?
At present, one is required to visit multiple sites and still cannot obtain the desired information. Press Information Bureau (GOI) and Department of Information and Public Relations (Govt of J&K) have launched fact checking portals in response to the flow of fake information during corona times. Why is government providing opportunity to fake news and why are we people required to believe that information available on twitter account of Mr. Rohit Kansal is the only true information related to Corona Cases? Why can’t government make a separate portal for corona related information as suggested earlier? Why are we put in a world where we are only counting the cases; what about other information? The lack of information will be a serious issue sooner or later. Activists and journalists must seek factual information related to corona-19 in all perspectives including finance, management, activities etc.
Author is Chairman of J&K RTI Foundation and is pursuing Research in Social Anthropology