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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

RTI is Dysfunctional in J&K

Ranbir exposes the J&K government stone-walling on implementation of the Right to Informaion (RTI) Act in J&K

(Mr. Ranbir Singh Pathania, 30, was born in born in Jammu city. He did his early schooling from the J.S. Luthra Academy and the S.R.M.L. Higher Secondary School, Jammu. He graduated from the G.G.M. Science College, Jammu, with distinction, and went on to earn his law degree from the University of Jammu with distinction in the Constitutional Law. He is a practicing lawyer in the Jammu seat of the J&K High Court and subordinate courts in Jammu. Mr. Pathania has taken on prestigious cases like the Siddhra land scam, B.Ed. colleges scandal, etc. and is one of the vocal advocates for the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to root out corruption, preserve heritage and enforce the Right to Information (RTI) law. He is the General Secretary of jagriti Samaj and a member of the Advisory and Constitution Amendment Committee of the J&K Bar association. He was selected for the "Best Citizens of India" award by the Best Citizens Publishing House.)

Tall Claims of Government on RTI

The Prince Charming of J & K has confessed as to much needs to be done in the implementation of ‘right of information’ in J & K. The cryptic comment reminds me of a quote of a political scientist, ‘Less you intend to do a thing in politics, the more you have to talk about it’. If slogans and sermons could have been able to do the goods for ‘aam aadmi’, J & K by now would have turned into happy oasis of a state.

The Right to Information has long back been declared as a fundamental right by the Courts. But, ‘We, The People of India’ took more than five decades to enact a comprehensive law on the subject. An informed citizenry and accountable governance is the life and blood of a vibrant democracy.

The RTI revolution which swept across like an avalanche the criss-cross of this rumble-tumble nation seems to have halted somewhere near Lakhanpur. Thanks to our special status. Although the Act is boasted of having been brought at par with the central law, there is a sea of difference between the bark and the bite.

The non-constitution of State Information Commission even after elapsing of more than a year since the coming into force of J & K RTI renders it soulless and limbless. The Act vests supervisory, enforcing and penalizing powers in SIC. Worse more, greater sway of government in the selection committee raises a question mark over the independence of Commission. Two out of three members (Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister) of the selection committee could easily secure a smooth-sail for their favourite playboys. The experience and example in rest of the states has shown that RTI has flourished under independent SICs. A biased SIC is all-sure to make a mockery of the historic law. But for the landmark rulings of Wajahat Habibullah and Shailesh Gandhi as Central Information Commissioners, writing a new lexicon on administrative law and governance, the concept of ‘right to information’ would not have been able to scale the lofty ‘Everest’ of bureaucratic over-reach. Being a Sybil who loves to tear all leaves of prophecy, I propose that RTI activists and people from judicial fraternity should be considered for appointment as Information Commissioners.

Shouldn’t the Blackberry-fiddling Chief Minister come out with a specific stand as to if the State Information Commission is also going to meet the same fate as that of Accountability Commission and State Human Rights Commission.

Time has come when we should strive towards formulating a national consensus on keeping issues like ‘right to information’ and ‘accountability’ above and aloof the reach of petty politics. Gone are the days when Lal Bahadur Shastri, had volunteered to direct the Railways Department to verify if the job given to his son was on the count that he was son of a prime minister.

The requirement of Rs. 50 per application and Rs. 10 per page as photostat charges and Rs. 100 per CD seems to have eroded the very essence and edifice of the Act. Majority of the departments have not complied with the requirement of section 4 of the Act envisaging mandatory disclosure of information in the form of an information booklet within 120 days of promulgation of Act. The departments quip to have APIOs upto district and block level. Many of them do not have websites. Interestingly, state High Court is not a ‘public body’ as per the Act. The Public Information Officers, Assistant Public Information Officers and Appellate Authorities are least versed in the job. That is why, majority of applications and appeals under RTI Act are hanging fire despite expiry of statutory period. I fear if I am too wishful, but cannot it be like that, all applications and appeals under RTI should be entertained and disposed online.

This columnist – nursing an unusual penchant for bombarding government offices with a diverse rainbow of RTI queries – approached J & K Legislative Assembly, a few days ago, with an application under RTI Act where it took him two weeks to get his application simply registered. The registration was followed by a fat ‘no’ from the stiff-necked authorities denying the information as sought for by him on the very ground that RTI Act runs in face of Rules of Procedure of J & K Legislative Assembly. This is the level of consciousness and promptitude the temple of legislation and law-making in J & K nurtures towards the epoch-making legislation. I am here reminded of a golden quote of George Bernard Shaw, “Good laws never make good people”.

RTI empowers citizens, promotes transparency and accountability in government working, contains corruption and makes democracy run in the real sense. The Sonia-PMO stand-off on bringing in an amendment banning access to file-notings under RTI has amused persons and RTI activists across the globe. The recent CIC ruling mandating the judges to disclose their assets has seen the Supreme Court appealing against the High Court judgement. The irony is really thoughtful and thought-provoking.

In J & K it looks as if – the ‘indifferent’ state and disinterested ‘aam aadmi’ – are least prepared to put into play the RTI law in its true spirit and colour. The power-players are busy in amusing the people by indulging in gimmickry of the worst sort over self-rule, autonomy and azaadi. And the 21st century Gen Young seems over-indulgent in watching IPL, relishing seductive news-stories about Sania-Shoaib wedding and Kat-Salman love-affair, enjoying cheeseburgers and diet cokes and discussing latest fashions, Nakshtra diamonds and reality shows in cosy clubs and resplendent restaurants.

The tell-tale of much-hyped and much-boasted-of Accountability Commission is also no less disgusting and disinteresting. ‘It rose like a star and fell like a stone’ is possible an appropriate one-liner attribute to it. Hundreds of skeletons of ministers and bureaucrats lie buried underneath its cupboard and the Commission hangs headless since the past two years.

The headless State Human Rights Commission is also lying in limbo since long. Passing of judgments by it in cases of human rights violations after conduction of full-dressed trials has been as ceremonious as pouring water off a duck’s back. The recommendations are made for never to be implemented on ground. Zero tolerance to human rights violations is less a reality and more a political slogan.

When would the political hawks here come to understand that ensuring accountability, right to information and zero tolerance to human rights violations is the best autonomy, self-rule and azadi for the people of J & K.

No leader or legislator has raised these vital issues outside or on the floor of Assembly. That is why I am raising the ones in the peoples’ assembly. And I hope getting through a thumping peoples’ consensus and support on the sensitive issues.

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