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.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Closing the Loophole

The Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) reacts to Muzaffar's complaint

(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.)

Make IAS, KAS officers’ assets public: CIC to Govt

Faheem Aslam (Greater Kashmir)

Srinagar: In a significant decision, the Chief Information Commissioner of Jammu and Kashmir GR Sufi has directed the state government to put the details assets of the Indian Administrative Service and Kashmir Administrative Service officers on website within 15 days.

Disposing off a complaint filed by Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat against the General Administration Department, the CIC ruled that the “commission holds that they [GAD] should hoist such immovable property details of officers which are owned and acquired by them out of their own sources of income on government website.”

However, the CIC said, the assets “which are owned by their family members or spouses out of their own sources and Stree Dhan need not to be hoisted on the website because IAS officers have not done the same.”

“The commission has already informed the First Appellate Authority of the GAD about this decision,” the CIC’s judgment in the case reads.

While some of the KAS officers had objected to the declaration of assets citing “security scenario in J&K”, the CIC set aside the argument saying “the commission is constrained to observe that there is no express prohibition in the Act in this regard. The worthy IAS officers are at times performing more important functions and responsibilities with regard to law and order and security problems and they are obviously in senior positions than KAS officers. However the Commission is also conscious of the fact that the IAS officers have hoisted only immovable property returns of All India and Central Services Rules. On the principle of equity, the same principle should be applied to the KAS officers.”

The State’s Chief Information Commissioner had earlier come under sharp criticism of observers on seeking “third party opinion” on the issue. The CIC had observed that Section 11 of the J&K Right to Information Act of 2009 was involved in the issue. But some of the RTI activists clearly differed on the assertion, arguing that the matter could be resolved in ‘much simpler ways.’

Section 11 of the RTI Act envisages that where a Public Information Officer intends to disclose any information or record, or part thereof, on request made under the Act, which relates to or has been supplied by a third party and has been treated as confidential by that third party, the PIO shall within five days from the receipt of the request, give a written notice to such third party to make a submission in writing or orally regarding whether the information should be disclosed. “As such the submission of the third party shall be kept in view while taking a decision about the disclosure of information,” the Section mentions.

GAD had issued the notice in July, inviting objections from all J&K cadre IAS/KAS officers [third party in this case] on whether the information regarding their property statements should be disclosed to the appellant, Dr Muzaffar Bhat, or not.

The CIC judgment in the case says the First Appellate Authority [FAA] did comply with the directions. “He did ask for the objections, if any, from all the IAS/KAS officers of the state. As per the FAA only some of the KAS/IAS officers gave objections within the prescribed time. It is important to note that the FAA has confirmed that some officers have not raised any objections for any such disclosure,” the judgment reads. “The FAA has agreed with few officers who have objected to the disclosure of information on the please that it amounts to invasion of privacy and would expose the officers to all sorts of risks by endangering their lives. Besides, the FAA says the disclosure of information is not going to serve the larger public interest and has no relation to the public activity.”

An officer has argued before the GAD that “we are the field officers and due to the prevailing law and order situation our property at times becomes targets for attack. Sharing such information without any cogent reason or specific purpose is against the mandate of law and purpose of the Act. Once this information is shared, there is every apprehension that the properties of officers will get targeted due to law and order problems.”

Another officer has argued that “there have been good number of cases in the country where children of high profile private sector executives have been kidnapped for ransom. Even some private sector employees drawing huge salaries also expressed their reservations to media regarding disclosure of their income as it has security implications. The security situation in J&K continues to be fragile and majority of employees do not have the security cover especially to their families. So the sharing of information can become a big threat from criminals.”

The Chief Information Commissioner has however ruled that with regard to the first FAA contention that the supply of information would not serve larger public interest, the commission “is of the considered opinion that this contention is not correct.” “The very concept of public servant implies that the Government servant has to serve in and for the interest of public at large in a system that we have under the constitution of India and the constitution of the state. Hence if assets acquired and obtained by public servants out of their own funds, which flow from the government exchequer, an argument is rightly made that the public have interest to know the details of assets acquired through public funds,” the CIC ruled.

He says the concept has been widely elaborated in a Madras High Court judgment which reads: “It is now widely recognized that openness and accessibility by the people to information is a vital component of democracy.”

With regard to objections by IAS/KAS officers that details of assets falls in the ‘personal information’ category, the CIC has ruled that the Madras High Court judgment says “the information relating to assets declaration of IAS officers cannot be said to be an information which cannot be accessed by the a public authority. As those informations are either not more confidential or private informations.”

“The Madras High Court has noted that as the details of assets of IAS officers have been hoisted on website, therefore privacy clause no more holds good,” the CIC has ruled.

With regard to another limb of Bhat’s complaint that how many IAS/KAS officers have not submitted their annual property statements since last 10 years, the CIC has ruled that “it is surprising that even this information was denied by the PIO and FAS without any cogent and convincing reasons.”

“Such information also be hosted on website of GAD. And compliance to this judgment be made within 15 days of its issuance,” the CIC has ruled.

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