RTI : A tool in the hands of oppressed

RTI : A tool in the hands of oppressed

In response to Abdul Haq Khan''s statement on RTI activists

Recently Rural Development & Law Minister Abdul Haq Khan gave an irresponsible statement from the floor of legislative assembly. While responding to MLA Kupwara Bashir Ahmad Dar, Khan said “RTI activists are big blackmailers”. Minister Abdul Haq Khan was replying to a query while a private members RTI amendment bill was introduced by the MLA from Kupwara. Being a campaigner for the Right to Information in Jammu & Kashmir, I, along with selfless colleagues of RTI Movement have been hurt with this statement. Mr Abdul Haq Khan is not only State’s Rural Development Minister but also holds the charge of J&K’s Law Ministry & happens to be a senior lawyer who is well versed with the provisions of law. He himself knows how useful and revolutionary RTI Act is. He has himself used the law in past, I believe.  

How is RTI helpful to people ?

RTI is the only the tool in the hands of poor and oppressed citizens that helps people demand accountability from Government. RTI has transformed electoral democracy into participatory democracy . 85 % countries in the world have enacted Right to Information Law in one way or the other. In some countries it is called RTI Act , somewhere it is called Freedom of Information Act (FoI) or Access to Information Law (ATI). In addition to Jammu & Kashmir people in all the states in India use RTI Act. Governments in Pakistan , Bangladesh , Sri Lanka , Maldives too have enacted Right to Information Act (RTI) during last 5 to 8 years. If handful of RTI users or information seekers have misused the process of RTI law, that does not mean all the selfless people associated with creating awareness about this law or motivating people to use RTI Act for getting justice are blackmailers? There are people who have misused Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that doesn’t mean PIL Activists are blackmailer ? PILs have created revolution in India. In June 2016 National Conference MLA from Gurez Nazir Ahmad Gurezi, who is present Deputy Speakers of Legislative Assembly, along with Congress MLA G M Saroori, uttered similar words. Both the legislators called RTI a blackmailing tool. If legislators start abusing RTI law, what kind of empowerment they plan for their people? 

RTI & blackmailing ?

The term blackmail originally denoted a payment made by English persons residing along the border of Scotland to influential Scottish chieftains in exchange for protection from thieves and marauders. In blackmail the threat might consist of physical injury to the threatened person or to someone loved by that person, or injury to a person’s reputation. In some cases the victim is told that an illegal act he or she had previously committed will be exposed if the victim fails to comply with the demand.  In our state aforementioned things don’t generally happen but things like seeking personal favours, creating pressure on Govt officials etc have been reported. Such things only happen when the Government Officials too are involved in some dirty game. If an officer is honest and does work sincerely  , he or she would hardly get blackmailed or harmed. We all know in majority of Government offices corruption is rampant. When aggrieved people seek information about works, the corrupt Govt officials feel they will get exposed. This happened recently in Bandipora where money meant for MGNREGA works was misappropriated and credited into fake accounts. The work has hardly been executed. It is  obvious that Rural Development Department (RDD) officials like VLWs , BDOs and people involved in this criminal act will call the whistleblowers who exposed this scam as Blackmailers ? 

Conclusion :

I remember words of Late Mufti Mohammad Syed while speaking at an RTI workshop on September 9th  2009 in Srinagar. He impressed upon his MLAs, MLCs, District Presidents and Zonal Presidents to make rigorous use of RTI. He said “you can only get justice through RTI as we are out of power. So seek justice for your people , make Govt accountable by rigorous use of RTI”. It is so unfortunate that when the same party has come to power, its senior leaders are calling RTI campaigners , activists and whistleblowers  blackmailers ! What kind of message is Government giving to its people ? There are hundreds of success stories wherein RTI helped people and exposed scams. It was RTI which exposed Coalgate, 2G, Adarash Housing, Commonwealth and other scams. Recently a blind PHD scholar Umar Rashid Bandari got justice when he was allowed to inspect his and his colleagues OMR sheet, answer key etc. Umar had appeared for the post of 10 +2 lecturer exam last year , but he  was dropped. RTI was the only tool for this visually impaired scholar and he fought for his right using RTI Act. We  helped Umar to draft his RTI application , went with him to PSC , State Information Commission (SIC), are we also blackmailers ? What kind of message is Government giving to its people ? We need an answer from the Government & if it fails to come clear on this issue , we will question them using the same tool of RTI ?