Light at the end of the tunnel

amin_malik_ku@hotmail.com Though Right to Information is a part of fundamental rights under Article 19(1) of the Consti...

amin_malik_ku@hotmail.com 

Though Right to Information is a part of fundamental rights under Article 19(1) of the Constitution, a man in the street can not dare to go to any Govt. office and ask the officials for details and achievements of a particular work that has been done. They will not entertain him and might even throw him out or manhandle him. The officials will ask him "who are you to seek information from our office?" Even when a person is pursuing his own work in any office, it is common to see that employees raise either some irrelevant objections and not listen to anything or give vague responses. This is generally done because these employees are fishing for a bribe. But time is changing fast for all of us. Now the use of RTI Act can do wonders. The Act empowers a common man to keep an eye on the work of the Govt., clarify doubts through simple procedures and seek time bound action on his application. Thus we don't have to grease the palms of officials or perform endless visits.

The Right to Information Act, 2005 is a landmark legislation passed by the Government of India.  Following this the J&K state Govt implemented this act in 2009 all over the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It is one of the most powerful tools that keep the Govt. depts. alert and awake for maintaining transparency and accountability with a main objective of promoting good governance and delivering goods to the people.  This Act gives the citizens a right to information at par with the members of Parliament and the members of state Legislatures. According to the Act, the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a state Legislature shall not be denied to any person. Thus RTI act is a powerful tool in the hands of citizens to get information from the Govt. as a matter of right.

Access to information not only promotes openness, transparency and accountability in administration, but it also facilitates active participation of people in governance. Right to Information Act empowers every citizen to ask any questions from the Govt. or seek any information, take copies and Inspect any Govt. documents, Inspect any Govt. works, take samples of materials of any Govt. works, which are held under the control of the public authority. Therefore through RTI act we can know about the various Govt. policies, programs, achievements and the actions taken by the authorities. Public Information Officers (PIO's) have been appointed in all the States as well as Central Govt. offices to deal with RTI related applications received from the citizens.

RTI act is a ray of hope for the worst sufferers in our society and in general, it is a blessing for the common masses at least in this part of the world where nothing happens without approaching the right people with bribes. Though RTI act cannot address our grievance directly but we can use its might to solve most of our day-to-day and community related problems. RTI can unearth the corruption in the procurement of the recent spurious drug scam. Through RTI we can ask the public works deptt how many contractors have been blacklisted for using substandard materials in road and building construction works. We can file an RTI for the customer inconvenience against the bank employs. RTI can disclose a student why he/she has failed in the university or any entrance examination and the students can clear his doubts regarding the same. Through RTI we can ask gas agencies about their customers and details of demand and supply of gas.  In this regard we can file a complaint and then file an RTI to follow up on our grievance.

We can also submit an application to the appropriate Public Information Officer PIO and seek information with respect to our problem. After obtaining information one can contact higher officials or can make a complaint. If no action is taken, we can file one more RTI and ask about what action has been taken in the complaint. One can ask for information like "Please provide the names and designations of the officers who were supposed to take action on my application". If the Govt. provides names and designations of the officials, their responsibility gets fixed. Any officer is most scared of fixing of responsibility against him in this manner. So, the moment one files the 2nd RTI application, his/her pending work gets done.

The Govt. officials particularly PIOs face many problems in addressing the RTI queries and hence large number of RTI cases remain pending in various offices. It is true that PIO's cannot create or interpret any information or furnish replies to hypothetical questions. But their indifference towards the RTI cases is a cause for concern. Under the RTI act the PIOs cannot ask for the reasons from the applicant for seeking information. They have to render service to the information seekers calmly and treating them with utmost courtesy. There is a need to make these officials more knowledgeable about RTI and make them understand their responsibility.
 
It is also a fact that people today don't know where and how to file an RTI application for seeking information of their problems. Many people believe that RTI is a forum where we get our grievance redressed and usually frivolous complaints are being filed before the authorities. There are many others who maintain that filling an RTI   for seeking information is to going against the Govt authority. Many others feel that it is important on the part of the authorities to ensure that applicants name be held secret. Besides, there is a general belief that people misuse this law to settle scores or unearth skeletons by making frivolous requests which usually come in the way of genuine petitions. Thus every citizen must know about the provisions of RTI Act and should ask questions which have basis and intention for the benefit of the people and for the society.

Therefore we need to create awareness among the common masses about RTI act, to make a transition from opaque and arbitrary system to the one where we can exercise the right to information. This can be done by organizing seminars, workshops and symposiums. The Govt. must take concrete steps to create mass awareness and educate people through Radio, TV and other allied activities. The NGOs in our state must come forward and start working on RTI.  Our college students are less aware about RTI act and they also need to be educated to create a cumulative effect of awareness. In this direction the educational intuitions can serve as a best platform for awaking the students about RTI act. By this more and more people will come forward for using RTI act in a proper way with positive mindset. This will promote transparency, accountability, reduce corruption, improve the governance and make our living better. This is only way we can improve out lot. I will close my topic with a saying "If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them"

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