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, November 11, 2012

Empowerment Through RTI

Nazia assesses RTI as a resource for knowledge and information

RTI Can Lessen ‘Communication Gap’ in Kashmir

Nazia Nabi (Kashmir Images)

Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family - Kofi Annan

The relation between the government officials and commoners in Kashmir has never been strong or encouraging in terms of information exchange. Either the lack of cooperation on part of government officials or the fear of action from them impedes exchange of information sharing for the commoner. As a consequence, commoners remain ignorant of various schemes and are unable to resist when their rights become causality. They fail to defend their rights to which they are entitled owing to fear. At the same time, people remain ignorant in terms of the ways and means through which they can obtain their entitled rights from the concerned departments legally.

Right to Information Act (RTI) is one of the powerful tools which provide an individual an opportunity and a right to ask questions to the concerned government officials regarding their work. It also holds the potential to improve accountability for delivery of services to make visible, possibly immediate changes in the quality of life for many marginalised communities. There are government schemes and programmes designed to strengthen poor, but, often these schemes do not reach to the target population. Their rights lose weight and sheen due to corruption and inefficiency of the government machinery.

The RTI has the potential to change the environment of “corruption and favouritism” going on in government departments unabated now-a-days. Millions of rupees go otherwise down the drain and no one raises a finger towards the erring officials. So, RTI is a tool to help people to question even officials about their work. Thus, makes government officials accountable for the kind of work they perform and the funds they receive for any course of action. The act was introduced in India late and the state of Jammu and Kashmir also pioneered the age of Information by implementing new version of RTI Act on March 20th, 2009. The state had RTI Act in place in 2004 during PDP government era

Earlier, the act was passed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir as a sign of positive changes and initially certain changes were noticed at many levels. The act tried to bring the government officials on their toes for effective delivery of service and the dealings, later on brought many changes in the relationship between commoners and government officials. This axis attained an encouraging level as the RTI tool became a tool to dismantle the fear that powerless had earlier. People feared to question those in power or those in authority. The day to day dealings became more responsive and RTI movement unnerved certain officials’ who were neck deep in corruption.

Being the most corrupt state, there is every possibility of nepotism and chaos at every level in Kashmir. There are vested interests that want to make the act ineffective and the recent decision of cabinet to amend few sections of RTI Act added fuel to fire. This action is a planned campaign to curb the basic democratic rights of the people. My question to law amenders would be how can democracy thrive in a place where Right to Information has been put in a sacrosanct? I am still confused what does democracy mean in such a set up. Unless the commoners find an equally strong motivation to stand up and fight to preserve it, its ability to withstand this onslaught is in doubt for sure.

The surest way to strengthen RTI act is to spread the awareness about its significance and impact it has. It is also necessary to do this without creating needless animosity between the people and government officials; instead encouraging people to use the RTI for the benefit of all. People need to stand up and oppose the amendments which dilute the very essence. It is fact that even now people in rural areas hardly have the importance of RTI act. Few aware people in rural areas have used it but vast majority don’t know how to file an RTI application or what its benefits are.

So the need is to disseminate education about RTI Act, its significance and benefits among the young generation. And later, these youngsters can spread the message across the length and breadth of their respective villages. Not only this but we need to educate them about an RTI Act then and RTI Act now. Make them understand the difference between RTI Act 2009 and RTI Act 2012, so that they get to know how people at the helm of affairs try to dilute their basic human right.

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