Wednesday, October 01, 2014

J&K activists' Gujarat consultation: Despite RTI plea, govt refuses to give details of 8,000 "missing" persons

Dr Ghulam Rasool
By Our Representative
A senior activist from the Right to Information (RTI) Movement, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), has claimed that neither the Government of India nor the J&K government is refusing to reveal any information about more than 8,000 persons who have gone “missing” over the quarter of a century. Dr Ghulam Rasool, a physician by profession, told a consultation organized by three Gujarat-based voluntary organizations, Janpath, Movement for Social Democracy and People’s Union for Civil Liberties, that these persons were “picked up” by security forces, never placed before courts, and there is no information about their whereabouts.
“We have filed a right to information (RTI) application about them. A term has been coined in J&K about the wives of the missing persons – half widows. We wish to know who they are, whether they are dead or are live, where they have been kept if they are alive, if alive why have they not been placed before the courts of law, as required by the J&K law”, the senior J&K activist, giving a long list of activities they have been doing, said. The figure of 8,000 Kashmiris “missing” has been made available by the Srinagar-based Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).
Significantly, the “failure” to provide information comes despite the State Information Commission (SIC) directing the State Government way back in early 2012 to provide to an RTI applicant statistics about the persons who went missing in J&K for 20 years. It served show cause notice to the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the state home department that why he should not be penalized for delaying the information to the applicant. Dr Rasool did not reveal what happened to the application, but merely said, “We are still waiting.”
In October 2012, the J&K government, in reply to a question in the state assembly, said 2305 persons were “missing” since 1989 when the turmoil broke out in the state. This, it said, was “as per the information provided by the District Development Commissioners.”
A civil society sponsored programme in J&K in August 2014, ‘Tributes to the disappeared persons and the struggle of their families’, organized by Coalition of Civil Society contested the figure and stuck to the 8000 number. CSS also contested claim of the government that around 4,000 termed as “missing” may have crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and gone to Pakistan to receive arms training but never returned.
The J&K RTI activists told the consultation -- organised in the Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad-- how they were “successful” in ending the lease to the army of a magnificent meadow in J&K's Budgaon district, called Tosamaidan.
“It is the most beautiful place in J&K. The army was using it as firing range since 1964, which led to the accidental death of 65 persons and causing disability to 250. The lease was put up for renewal in 2014. Information regarding the lease conditions, renewal, and deaths, was obtained under RTI. A people’s movement not to renew the lease broke out, resulting in government deciding in our favour”, Dr Rasool said, adding, “In April, the J&K government agreed to put up an eco-tourism project.”
Giving examples of successes, J&K RTI activists said, the local administration would refuse to issue passport putting applications of individuals in suspended animation, without any reason.
Abid Jilani, an advocate, said, “I did not get my passport for nearly two-and-a-half years, and I filed an RTI application wondering why was I not being issued the passport and why was it being ‘indexed’, the term they used for not providing me passport. And, I received my passport within one-and-a-half months, as they have no reason for indexing my passport. This has helped others also to obtain passport, as now authorities must provide reason for indexing passport.”

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