Records need immediate digitization

Pertinently there is a provision for inspection of record by an RTI applicant under JK RTI Act 2009
Records need immediate digitization

Before separation of Judiciary from executive, the Judicialofficers in J&K used to exercise all the executive powers including holdingof elections as no independent election commission was in place. StateJudiciary independently conducted 1951 constituent assembly and 1957 stateelections. 1962 assembly election was the first election in J&K conductedby Election Commission of India (ECI). In order to get some historicaldocuments pertaining to 1951 constituent assembly elections, in August 2018 Ifiled an application under Right to Information Act (RTI) before PrincipalDistrict and Sessions Judge Srinagar (PDJ Srinagar) . The Judicial officers ofsubordinate Judiciary used to function as Returning Officers as Judiciary wasnot separated from Executive. After getting negative feedback from his recordroom officials,  PDJ Srinagar who is alsothe designated Public Information Officer (PIO) under JK RTI Act 2009  vide his communication No:3377/PDJS/Adm/2018  Dated : 07.09.2018informed me that information sought was not available. Later, I filed 1stappeal before the Registrar General J&K High Court (First AppellateAuthority) who also upheld the order of PIO / PDJ Srinagar vide his order Dated12.12.2018. As I was confident enough about the record I finally filed 2ndappeal before State Information Commission (SIC).

Hearing at SIC

During the 1st hearing at SIC on 9th May 2019,representative of  PDJ Srinagar andcounsel of Registrar General JK High Court reiterated that election recordsought under RTI law was not available with Judiciary. State InformationCommission (SIC) referred the case to J&K's Chief Electoral Officer (CEO).During another hearing on June 12th 2019, the CEOs representative was summonedby SIC. The officer told commission that information sought was not availablein CEOs office. This made it clear that information was only available with thejudiciary. Finally State Information Commission (SIC) directed the PrincipalDistrict and Sessions Judge (PDJ) Srinagar to constitute a search committee that would have membersconsisting of  officers fromjudiciary,  retired officers who had beenin-charge of the judicial record room Sadder Court Srinagar along with me.Pertinently there is a provision for inspection of record by an RTI applicantunder JK RTI Act 2009

Search of record

Principal District and Sessions Judge Srinagar issued aformal order for constitution of committee headed by Chief Judicial Magistrate(CJM) Srinagar that would search central record room of sadder court Srinagar.Administrative Officer District and Sessions Court Srinagar, Section OfficerSadder Court Record room and a retired Administrative Officer of PDSJ Courtwere part of the committee. Being the aggrieved party in the case I was alsopart of the committee . On June 27th we stared search at central record roomold court complex Srinagar at around 10:30 am and within 5 mins we got hold ofelection record pertaining to 1957 elections. This authenticated my claim thatelection record was available in the record room. But the record room was insuch a pathetic condition that we could not get hold of 1951 election record.Only July 2nd 2019 once again search was conducted but due to messed up old recordwe were unable to get the desired record. The search was again conducted withproactive support of Principal District and Sessions Judge Srinagar A  R Mir & CJM Gowhar Majeed Dalal on July9th and we got hold of an election notification published in urdu issued aroundAugust 1951 by Additional District Magistrate Srinagar who used to be Sub judgeor CJM level judicial officer. We also found election record which made itclear that J&K State had its own Franchise Commission headed by a personnamely Hira Lal.

Conclusion

Had the record been properly indexed and digitized we wouldhave obtained the desired documents within one day only. In-fact section 4 ofstate RTI Act impresses upon public authorities for record digitization and itsindexing.  There is immediate need topreserve & protect our old official state record. There are many historicaljudgments and election record dating back to 1930s and pre 1947 which needs tobe preserved. In fact we found record pertaining to 1936-37  Praja sabha election as well, that wasconducted after Maharaja Hari Singh had constituted the State Legislature underAct No 1 of 1991 Bikrimi. This was later known as Constitution Act afterMaharaja promulgated Constitution of J&K in 1939.  Luckily the record room of Sadder courtSrinagar was not affected by 2014 floods and most of the old record is stillpreserved, only thing to be done is to digitize the same at any cost so that wepreserve the same for our future generations. I would suggest that Old CourtComplex Srinagar be converted into a Judicial Museum where all the historicaljudgments , election record pre 1962 would be made available for public. InJammu also similar museum should be set up. Department of Culture, Archivesalong with Judiciary must work on this project jointly.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder & Chairman of JK RTIMovement

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