Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

RTI Bill Passed Twice by the J&K Legislative Assembly is a Hatchet Job

RTI Bill antithesis of Central Act
Rakesh Kumar
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, October 22 If the idea behind the Central Right to Information Act, 2005, is to let the public have access to every possible information, then intention behind the J&K’s version of the Act, Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2007, seems to deny the common man every information inconvenient to the bureaucrats, its critics say. The debate over the use of ambiguous words, which are likely to be ready pretexts for officials in suppressing information, in the Bill and its limited purview has been reignited after the Governor, Lieut-Gen S.K. Sinha (retd), returned it to the government for reconsideration. A move much cheered by RTI activists.

Unlike Central, the RTI Act, which has the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, under its purview, the J-K Act leaves the judiciary outside its purview. So a state subject could obtain information on a relevant case in the apex court but he has no legal way to find details of a case going in a lower court or High Court of the state. However, what has made the activists of the organisations like the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) to doubt the state government’s motive most is that there is no provision in the Act that bars officers from asking applicants to disclose reasons for seeking information. The central RTI Act makes it clear that information officers would not ask applicants as to why they are seeking any information. And to top it all the state government has qualified the information to be given with the term “practicable”, leaving it to the mercy of information officers to decide what is practical and what not.

The information officer has been for all practical purposes vested with the power of a judge, undermining the very purpose of the Act, its critics say. The Act also seeks to appoint members of the information commission for a term of three years, unlike five years prevalent in other states.

The government’s indifferent attitude to transparency and empowering its citizens is also reflected in much-diluted punitive measures, compared to the Central Act, in the Act against officers not giving out information. The maximum penalty is Rs 5,000 and what disciplinary actions it would take against them have also not been explained, official sources said.

The CHRI says the government has shown undue haste in rushing through with the Bill, and it would be best if it is referred to a joint select committee of both Houses. The activists have also expressed their surprise as to what was the need for the government to amend the Central RTI Act when it has received people’s approval everywhere. The Raj Bhawan, sources say, has brought many of such concerns on the record before returning the Bill to the government.

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