RTI awareness: Whose Responsibility?

RTI awareness: Whose Responsibility?

8 years have elapsed and no Government organization has been assigned the job of undertaking RTI awareness.

Recently Jammu & Kashmir Government issued a circular wherein Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) has been made the nodal department for implementation of sub sections (2) , (3) and (4) of section 23 of J&K Right to Information Act 2009. According to the order issued by the Commissioner/Secretary, General Administration Department (GAD) , the Director Information J&K has been designated as Nodal Officer for implementation of the said provisions of the act. It is a welcome step which Government has taken probably on the advise of Chief Information Commissioner Mr Khurshid Ahmad Ganai. 

In the Government order No: 1232-GAD  of 2017 Dated : 26.9.2017  there is mention of sub section 2, 3 and 4 which is to be implemented by the Directorate of Information & Public Relations. On the other hand   sub section 1 of the same section has been bypassed & there is no mention about it at all.  The fact of the matter is that sub section 1 of section 23 of  J&K  RTI Act 2009 is the most important sub section in the entire RTI Act as this lays emphasis on RTI awareness building , training of Government officials, developing educational programmes on RTI for general public especially the disadvantaged communities. Why this sub section has been bypassed is a matter of concern for people in general and RTI campaigners in particular.  

 

What is section 23  RTI Act ? 

The J&K RTI Act 2009 impresses upon the Government to create awareness about Right to Information Act among general masses especially those people who belong to disadvantaged communities and who live in remote and underdeveloped areas of the state. It is not the duty of State Information Commission (SIC) to organize RTI workshops and seminars but the reality is that Government is supposed to all this in an organized manner.  Section 23 (1) of J&K RTI Act 2009 reads as : 

“The Government may to the extent of availability of financial and resources a) develop and organize educational programmes to advance the understanding of the public , in particular of disadvantaged communities as to how to exercise the rights contemplated under the act b) encourage public authorities to participate in the development and  organization of programmes referred to in clause (a) and to undertake such programmes themselves c) promote timely and effective dissemination of accurate information by public authorities about their activities d) train Public Information Officers (PIOs) of public authorities and produce relevant training material for the use of public authorities. 

The Government in its September 26th order did not assigned the awareness job to Directorate of Information but instead directed it to implement other three sub sections ie  2,3,4 of section 23. To implement sub section 2 of section 23 , Government was supposed to prepare a user guide in urdu (official language of J&K) that would help people understand the basics of RTI Act. This guide was to be prepared within 18 months (1 ½ year) from the commencement of the J&K RTI Act 2009. It is now more than 8 years since RTI law is enacted in J&K  and the guide is seen nowhere. Hope Director Information & PR , Mr Muneer Ul Islam prepares the urdu RTI guide soon. In addition to it sub section 3 & 4 focusses on publishing of RTI guidelines such as details of PIOs , First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) , their office addresses , phone numbers , emails , ensuring voluntary disclosure of information by authorities and updating the same at regular intervals. 

 

Conclusion : 

If the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) have been assigned the job of implementing three sub sections (2,3,4) of section 23 of J&K RTI Act 2009 , can Government clarify who will implement the sub section 1 of the same section ?  8 years have elapsed and no Government organization has been assigned the job of undertaking RTI awareness. Government will argue that Institute of Management Public Administration and Rural Development (IMPA) does organize RTI workshops for Government officers. This is true and I appreciate IMPA for its work , but how many such workshops have been organized by this institution from last 8 ½ years ?  Is IMPA creating awareness among the disadvantaged communities & villagers of Dacchan Madwah , Gurez , Machil , Karnah , Pogal Paristan ? No they cannot , because they have a limited budget and restricted mandate. Which Govt organization has held awareness camps on RTI in colleges , universities  and schools ? 

I am sorry to say that 80% of First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) who are the quasi-judicial authorities are not aware about their role under J&K RTI Act 2009 . Pertinently these officers are either Special Secretaries / Additional Secretaries to Government , Commissioners of various bodies,  Directors , Chief Engineers , DC’s , SPs , Additional DC’s , Superintending Engineers etc. I am not exaggerating this issue but these are the facts I have collected from last 7 years after analyzing more than 200 orders of J&K State Information Commission (SIC). The FAAs are not all at fault , because they haven’t been trained  how to dispose of an RTI 1st appeal after an information seeker is aggrieved with the Public Information Officers (PIO). The PIOs  who are junior to the FAAs (Under Secretaries , Deputy Secretaries , BDOs , BMOs, Tehsildars, Deputy Directors etc) also lack training and capacity building and they continuously complaint about this , but nobody is listening. I am hopeful that Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) , Chief Secretary  and Commissioner Secretary to Government General Administration Department (GAD) will take a strong note of these facts.