(Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat, 36, was born in Wathoora village in the Budgam district and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial High School in 1993. He completed his Bachelor's degree in Dental Surgery from from the Karnatka University in 2000. He has a private dental practice in Chandoora and is a social activist dedicated to educating public on the Right To Information (RTI) legislation. He is the Convener of the J&K RTI Movement and associated with the Commonwealth Human Rights Intitiative (CHRI) office in New Delhi.)
Recent news regarding misuse of state chopper by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah hit the media circles, not only in J&K but across India. Various New Delhi based news channels and news papers highlighted this issue more than we had expected. But what most of these news channels or news papers missed to mention is the role of this poor man living under Below Poverty Line (BPL) who actually sought information from Chief Minister’s office under Right to Information (RTI) Act.
In this whole story what strikes out is that an ordinary, illiterate, poor man - Aam Aadmi - living in a remote hamlet of Budgam district is questioning the Chief Minister of a state. For us, as advocates of Right to Information, better known as RTI Activists, the biggest achievement in this whole scenario is seeing a poor man like Bashir Malik (Information seeker) getting empowered by using his right under RTI law rather than making hue and cry over whooping twelve crore expenditure on state chopper for the last two and a half years by the Chief Minister.
I have known Bashir since one and a half years only but I could feel his passion for fighting against the misgovernance , nepotism, and corruption. One and a half year back Bashir could not even dare to enter into the office of a Tehsildar or a Block Development Officer (BDO); he was scared and even the attitude of Government officers was totally indifferent. But today this same person is asking the Chief Minister how much money he spends on his chopper trips? This is amazing! Who empowered Bashir so much ? The answer is RTI Act. This young man along with his friends have totally changed the style and functioning of Government offices in his area. Today there is much transparency in the allotment of money to houseless people under Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) in Bashir’s Drang village. The officials of CAPD or Revenue Department do not dare to ask for bribe for providing BPL ration cards to people, NREGA is being implemented properly, but still there are lots of problems and challenges ahead for this young band of activists.
After feeling the heat of RTI many corrupt officials are ganging up against RTI users calling them black mailers. But the question is who can be ‘blackmailed’? Can anybody blackmail an upright officer doing his work with dedication and honesty; the answer is no. Yes, there may be instances wherein RTI can be used as a “teasing tool” and there are chances of reverse corruption but that is only possible when very few people use RTI. If more and more people file RTI for the same subject or work, how Government officials can bribe all the RTI applicants ? We must try to understand this issue.
We must be thankful to the Government who strengthened J&K RTI Act 2004 by replacing it with J&K RTI Act 2009 and at the same time we must be grateful to opposition as well who for the first time enacted J&K RTI Act 2004 when even there was no such act at Centre. If RTI won’t have been in vogue it was only a dream for a person like Bashir to question a Chief Minister. We hope the Government won’t try to weaken the RTI Act in view of the recent developments. RTI is a pro people legislation which is not at all is going to weaken the administration, but will in turn strengthen the Government institutions by ensuring transparency, accountability and good governance at all fronts.