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Fate of RTI in J&K: 630 cases of murder, disappearance, rape? Govt pleads ignorance

By Venkatesh Nayak* 

A set of documents relating to my recent Right to Information (RTI) intervention to find out about the fate of the complaint cases filed before the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commissions (J&K SHRC) after it was wound up in October 2019 has revealed that hundreds of cases pending before it are locked up in Srinagar, yet the J&K Law Department pleads ignorance.
Parliament approved the bifurcation of the erstwhile State of J&K into two Union Territories in August 2019 after the President of India revoked Article 370 of the Constitution. The J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 repealed a plethora of laws enacted by the erstwhile State Legislature, one of which was the J&K Protection of Human Rights Act under which &K SSHR was functioning to entertain complaints of human rights violations from residents of J&K.
The J&K SHRC was also wound up in October 2019 when the J&K Reorganisation Act came into force. After J&K's status change and bifurcation, the Central Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 was made applicable to J&K and Ladakh. Interestingly, the J&K Reorganisation Act did not provide for any transitional provisions to protect the complaint cases pending before the J&K SHRC from abatement at the time of its winding up.
In August 2021, the Scroll published an article pointing to the uncertainty about the fate of thousands of cases despite the local Law Commission recommending the establishment of a separate HRC for J&K. Earlier, in July 2020, a group of UN Special Rapporteurs sent a special communication to the Government of India (GoI) urging action on the pending cases which accounted for more than 630 cases of allegations of murder, enforced disappearances, rape, and other kinds of human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by security forces on residents of J&K.
These special communications are uploaded on the UN website after a period of sixty days or so with or without the reply from the concerned Government. GoI has not sent any reply to this communication as on date.

RTI Interventions

So, in November 2021, I filed an RTI application with the J&K Department of Law which was the nodal agency for the implementation of erstwhile J&K Protection of Human Rights Act. I asked about the number of pending cases, list of case details prepared, if any, action taken to ensure their transfer to the National Human Rights Commission, if any, a copy of the Law Commission's report mentioned in the Scroll article, etc.
The CPIO replied that he did not have any information on all but one of the RTI queries and supplied the name and number of the Junior Assistant of the erstwhile J&K SHRC who was the erstwhile custodian of the case files.
When I spoke with the Junior Assistant, he told me that he and other colleagues had worked on preparing the list of files held by the J&K SHRC and had handed it over to the Law Department. All of this is explained in my first appeal. I demanded full disclosure of the information described in the RTI application.
Now the First Appellate Authority (FAA) of the Law Department -- the Special Secretary -- a high ranking official, has only reiterated the CPIO's reply except to the extent of pointing out that the files are lying locked up at the premises of the erstwhile office of the J&KSHRC.
After receiving the Law Department CPIO's reply, I had filed an identical RTI application with the J&K Home Department, hoping that they might have some information. The Home Department washed its hands off the matter by quietly transferring the RTI application to the Law Department. The CPIO of the Law Department cited his reply to my earlier RTI and disposed of this one also.

Problem with replies

When J&K's status was changed, the Central Department for Personnel and Training (DoPT) worked with the Central Information Commission (CIC) and got the appeals and complaints pending before the J&K State Information Commission transferred to Delhi, thanks to the initiative taken by the then Chief Information Commissioner of the CIC, Bimal Julka. These cases were disposed of by the CIC one by one. I got a copy of that correspondence and file notings also under RTI.
Unfortunately, neither the J&K Government nor the Central Government have acted with any degree of urgency with regard to the pending human rights cases which are far more serious in nature. I have not filed any RTI application with the NHRC to find out about their role as I did not have anything to depend upon to ask them questions. Till date there are no transitional provisions with regard to shifting of cases filed under the State's HR Act to the NHRC for disposal under the Central HR Act.
In short, justice for the complainants has remained locked up in the erstwhile J&KSHRC's premises for more than two years (or 27 months). After implementing the J&K Reorganisation Act the Minister for DoPT who is an MP from Jammu made a false claim that the Government had brought RTI to J&K finally, ignoring the fact that J&K had a much stronger RTI Act of its own since 2009.
However he and his counterparts in the Union Home Ministry have remained silent about the fate of these pending human rights cases in J&K. To the best of my knowledge, no question has been raised on the floor of Parliament, on this issue, till date. If this is the attitude towards people in J&K how will peace be achieved ever? Peace without justice is the peace of a graveyard.
The purpose of bodies like human rights commissions is to provide an avenue independent of the Government for redressing complaints of violations of human rights. If such bodies also fail the people they are meant to serve, where will complainants go? 
Going to Courts is an expensive proposition for citizens without adequate means or competent legal aid. HRCs were set up to provide a more citizen-friendly and inexpensive mechanism for inquiring and redressing complaints of violations of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
What needs to be done to ensure that the pending human rights complaint cases are entertained by a competent authority and disposed of as per law? Readers might like to respond with options about what to do next.
---
*Transparency advocate and human rights activist, New Delhi/Bengaluru

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