(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.)
RTI: There is no Blackmail
There has been a marked change in the way bureaucracy functions since the promulgation of the RTI Act in J&K State. This Act has brought a change in the style of functioning of the government. The Government officers have understood that they are now answerable to the people.
This has resulted in openness in the governance which has become more responsive and answerable. Moreover, the RTI Act has come across as a good tool for honest officers to resist political and other pressures.
But as advocates of Right to Information Act (RTI) we have observed that a section of society which includes many corrupt bureaucrats and some politicians have been raising issue of blackmailing by some RTI users. Let us deeply study this phenomenon. The cry is raised because RTI has challenged the authority of corrupt officers
What is Blackmail?
The term blackmail originally denoted a payment made by English persons residing along the border of Scotland to influential Scottish chieftains in exchange for protection from thieves and marauders.
In blackmail the threat might consist of physical injury to the threatened person or to someone loved by that person, or injury to a person's reputation. In some cases the victim is told that an illegal act he or she had previously committed will be exposed if the victim fails to comply with the demand.
In case of RTI particularly in J&K the afore mentioned things don’t generally happen but things like seeking personal favours, illegal gratification etc may take place.
RTI & Blackmail
We have heard complaints that some members of the public are approaching government offices, claiming to be members of the J&K RTI Movement and implicitly or explicitly demanding special treatment. Members of our group should not be treated differently from any other citizen, and we therefore discourage our members from making such statements when filing RTI applications. We have also heard of cases where members of the public have falsely claimed to be part of our group. We have hundreds of members, and we cannot prevent such impersonation, but we are happy to verify the identity of anyone making such a claim.
More than one crore people live in J&K and everyone has the right to seek information under RTI Act and someone committing a crime using RTI does not mean that J&K RTI Movement has done something wrong.
Using RTI for Blackmailing Government officials or other people is mostly possible when the officials or people being blackmailed are themselves involved in some illegal activity otherwise how is it possible to blackmail an honest, upright and dedicated Government official who does work with honesty and integrity ? Even if some civilian has not committed something wrong in connivance with Government officials how is it possible to blackmail such civilian under the grab of RTI ? But at some point of times some vested interest may use RTI as a teasing tool to harass people which includes Government officials but this phenomenon has always persisted in the society even before the enactment of RTI law. Such black sheep will always be there but this does not mean that RTI is a bad law.
To counter blackmailing under the grab of RTI is very much possible and for this purpose the awareness about RTI law needs to be created at a mass level. The Government is under legal obligation to create awareness of RTI Act among people and the section 23 of J&K RTI Act 2009 clearly mentions it. Right now only a section of society, less than 5 %, are using RTI. Taking advantage of RTI Act some vested interested people seek favours (which officials call blackmail) like being enlisted in Indira Awaas Yojna list (IAY) (housing scheme for rural poor under which Rs 48,000 are given to houseless people) through BDO office. Some people get contracts through Roads and Buildings department (R&B) etc but once more and more people start asking same information how many people will get enlisted in IAY beneficiary list or will be given a contract through work order ? But getting Rs 48,000 under IAY or a contract by R&B is only possible when the BDO & Executive Engineer R&B office officials have themselves involved in some wrong practice which is quite often happening in our offices. If the officials in both these offices have done work as per norms how dare someone will seek illegal favours from them under the grab of RTI? More so if ten people seek same information under RTI , how is it possible that the BDO or the Executive Engineer will favour all the ten RTI applicants ?
I sincerely appeal to all those Government officials who talk of being blackmailed by RTI applicants and so called activists to give us details about the person who is involved in this wrong practice. But till date not a single incident has been reported to us. This clearly indicates that officials who claim to have been blackmailed are not sincere themselves as they too might have been involved in the crime in one way or the other. I look forward to working with Government , Civil Society in the future to advance the cause of RTI and good governance in J&K!