In my last opinion published in the Greater Kashmir on March31, 2020 entitled "RTI in the times of virus", I had tried to explain theimportance of pro-active disclosure of information by Government related toCovid-19. The more the information is withheld, the more the problems occur.The government of India is launching different websites, mobile apps andmessaging services asking for contributions, support and help in findingprobable corona cases, but is not taking measures to aware people in otherrespects related to corona. I and Raja Muzaffar are recommending again andagain for a separate website related to Corona-19, wherein whole informationshall be made available for people, including the information related to publiccontributions, 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 firstquarantined at Iran and then flown to India after tests by Indian Embassy inIran last month. I write "many Kashmiri Students", because it is not clear tome yet that how many Kashmiri students are quarantined at Jaisalmer Rajasthanfor last 21 days. This confusion over numbers is arising because of lack ofappropriate information. Different news reports are confusing to a common manand people like me actually need information in a readable, clear andunderstandable format. Different newspapers, both local and national, havereported that these students were not kept at a separate quarantine centre whenbrought from Iran, but were put at the same location asthat of the Pilgrims who were also evacuated from Iran. Even if the Indian ArmyWellness Centre at Jaisalmer has its own SOP and are taking care of thestudents there as per TUMS Students' information, but certain questions arisein our minds. Why the students were kept at the same place where there wereother pilgrims who were more probable corona carriers and among whom certainpersons have tested positive? People want to know, if as per reports ten peoplehave tested positive for corona, why the rest of the students are not sent backto their homes where they can further self-quarantine themselves? People wantto know, why an official statement is not coming from Home Ministry or StateGovernment related to the Kashmiri students stranded in Rajasthan?
The parents of these students have recently held a protestat Srinagar asking for the reasons over further quarantining of their childrenat Rajasthan. The lack of information has created stress not among the parentsonly, but also among the students held at Rajasthan and the people here. Thestudents are not well aware if they are corona negative or positive, becausethe reactions of the government and their negligence are making them worry. Ifthe students are believed, there is quite hot temperature nowadays in Jaisalmerand they were not prepared mentally for such a prolonged stay at Rajasthan,especially when all the students have tested negative to coronavirus. There aremany girls who are facing health issues because of the dust there and theanxiety plus loneliness may affect the health of these students.
I don't want government to put lives of people in dangerbecause 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 thecontinued withholding of appropriate and accurate information. If there is anymismanagement in handling the students stuck at Rajasthan, who is responsibleand what action has been taken by the government? According to newspaperreports, a group of parents on Friday even approached Kashmir's DivisionalCommissioner P K Pole to seek his intervention in clearing decks for theirwards' homecoming. He told them that the students can't be brought back toValley because of the lockdown. Is that a reason? We need to know whygovernment is not issuing a formal statement. If the government is havingDisaster Management Cell, why can't they arrange the transport exclusively forthese students, if not flights? Why the government is not publishing a factualreport related to the stranded students outside states or outside country?
At present, one is required to visit multiple sites andstill cannot obtain the desired information. Press Information Bureau (GOI) andDepartment of Information and Public Relations (Govt of J&K) have launchedfact checking portals in response to the flow of fake information during coronatimes. Why is government providing opportunity to fake news and why are wepeople required to believe that information available on twitter account of Mr.Rohit Kansal is the only true information related to Corona Cases? Why can'tgovernment make a separate portal for corona related information as suggestedearlier? Why are we put in a world where we are only counting the cases; whatabout other information? The lack of information will be a serious issue sooneror later. Activists and journalists must seek factual information related tocorona-19 in all perspectives including finance, management, activities etc.
Author is Chairman of J&K RTI Foundation and is pursuing Research in Social Anthropology