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, June 18, 2009

Right to Information (RTI) Saga Continues ...

Basharat says that implementing the RTI Act is proving tough but activists intend no let up

(Mr. Syed Basharat, 29, was born in Kreeri, Baramulla, and did his schooling in Kreeri, and later in Uri and Sopore. He graduated from the Degree College in Baramulla and completed his Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 2005. He has been a reporter for Kashmir Images, a Srinagar based daily, London based website Gaashonline.Com, and a Srinagar based journal, Globe. Currently, he is working as a special correspondent with Jammu based daily newspaper, The Kashmir Times.)

J&K RTI Act 2009: Rules yet to be made public

Srinagar: Around three months have elapsed since the Jammu and Kashmir Right To Information (J&K RTI) Act 2009 was enacted in the state but the government seems slow in making the much awaited rules public. Experts in the field believe that the present state government seemingly serious about transparency and accountability in the system should have made the draft rules public before their formal issuance.

It is pertinent to mention here that the J&K RTI bill 2009 was tabled in the state legislative assembly on March 7, and the Act was passed by the state legislature. It received the assent of the governor on 20 March 2009.

Venkatesh Nayak, an expert in RTI in India believes that unlike the central RTI Act which was 'implemented in a staggered manner', all provisions of the J&K RTI Act have come into force from the date of the gazette notification.

While talking to Kashmir Times on phone, Nayak said: "The Act is technically fully operational even though all systems and procedures have not been set up yet. This places a responsibility on the state government to issue rules for implementing the RTI Act immediately. Rules are necessary to clarify the detailing of the processes for seeking and obtaining information."

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat, an RTI Activist of valley, opined that the delay in issuance of RTI rules is acting as an impediment between people and the government. "For example, how much money will be charged as application fee and additional fee for photocopying, inspection, or obtaining information on CDs and floppies etc. must be laid down in the rules. Unless these rules are prescribed Public Information Officers will not be able to entertain RTI applications from citizens," Bhat added.

The experts further said that the procedure that the appellate authorities and the state information commission, although not set up yet, will follow while deciding appeals and complaints filed by citizens will also be prescribed in the rules. Therefore, it is important for the state government to come up with the rules without further delay, experts added.

Nayak stressed that detailed rules must be drawn up for collection of fees, submission of applications, proactive disclosure of information under section 4, guidance for allowing inspection of documents, method of collecting and providing samples of materials used by a public authority and procedure to be followed by the first appellate authority hearing first appeals.

A number of people especially students who are interested in using RTI Act as a tool to make government accountable, believe that the draft rules must be placed in the public domain for people's comments and finalised on the basis of the comments received. "When this process had been adopted by the state government while the draft Bill was prepared, I don't think there is a reason why public consultation should be left out of the rule making process," said Dr Faisal, from Kupwara.

When contacted commissioner secretary General Administration Department (GAD) Basharat Ahmad Dhar said that RTI Act 2009 rules have already been framed and will be issued within a week.

"Actually, we had framed the rules much earlier but after receiving valuable suggestions from India's Chief Information Commissioner Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, we revised the whole set of rules. Now it is much elaborate and a detailed document. The same has been vetted by the department of law and now we have forwarded it to the chief minister for his approval," Dhar said.

He added that people's suggestions vis-…-vis draft rules are most welcome, before the same are issued and posted on the GAD website. "We are not averse to public suggestions and in fact the suggestions are welcome. If all goes well, I think the rules will be issued in this week only."

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