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Hindrances have increased in filing RTI applications after reorganization of J&K

Marking the International Day for Access to Information, J&K RTI Foundation discussed weakness of RTI Act in J&K. A note:

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On the occasion of International Day for Universal Access to Information, J&K RTI Foundation held an event on Zoom wherein top RTI Activists across the country participated actively and passed a resolution to knock doors of Lieutenant Governor’s Administration for awareness and implementation of the RTI Act in Jammu and Kashmir. The event was held in consonance with the UNESCO General Conference declaration in 2015 recognizing the significance of access to information and proclamation of 28 September of every year as International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).
This year’s theme for the day was “Artificial Intelligence, e-Governance and Access to Information"; but J&K RTI Foundation deliberately discussed the sub-themes “Importance of Right to Information Law, Obstacles in Filing RTI Applications, Government’s Responsibility in Awareness of RTI Act and Accountability of Public Institutions”.
Speaking on the occasion, leading RTI Activist Karar Reshi said that the hindrances have increased in filing RTI Applications after reorganization of J&K because of non-availability of State Information Commission and low awareness of masses. He further emphasized that introduction of Central RTI Act 2005 has actually led to the disempowerment of already empowered people of J&K with J&K RTI Act 2009 which was repealed in October 2019.
Sajad Hussain, who is the first person in J&K to make officials conduct public hearings using J&K RTI Act in 2014, stressed on the responsibility of the government to conduct awareness programmes and promote RTI Act among public and the government officials. He raised the issue that “no programs have been held by the government after introduction of Central RTI Act 2005 even if it is the responsibility of the government as mentioned in the provisions of the law itself”.
Sheikh Maqbool who is the Spokesperson of J&K RTI Foundation threw light on the importance of public participation in transparency and accountability of public institutions. He emphasized that activists and the government are required to reinitiate the process of awareness of Central RTI Act 2005 like it was done earlier for the awareness of J&K RTI Act 2009.
The event was moderated by Irfan Ali Banka, who is the founder of J&K RTI Foundation and a research scholar. Irfan Ali Banka, based on his research, highlighted that as per the Annual Report 2020-21 of CIC only 7 (seven) Public Authorities in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir have submitted RTI Annual Return which is just 17.50% percentage compliance i.e. the least among the 94 Ministries/Independent Departments as given in the annual report. The average compliance is 95.91% and 68 ministries/independent departments show 100% compliance as per this report. This shows how low the compliance in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir is even after the introduction of Central RTI Act 2005.
He further added that as on 26 September 2022, only around 850 cases have been decided at the CIC and the RTI Activists in J&K are saying that this is a very less number and the barriers like, distance, language; work culture and internet/connectivity are affecting the appellants very badly.
Since this year’s theme of the International Day for Universal Access to Information focussed upon using Artificial Intelligence and e-governance to improve access to information in this digital world, a resolution was passed to suggest the government to launch an RTI Portal for J&K and train the PIO’s and FAA’s and appoint at least one Information Commissioner from each of the divisions of the UT of J&K so that decisions could be arrived at properly.

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