As UT, J&K Now Falls under Central RTI Act 2005, but Problems Remain 
The (Central) RTI Act, 2005 applies to the Union Government of India and all of its states and Union Territories. The state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), having been accorded special status under Article 370, had the option of voting through its own Legislative Assembly to adopt the Act or simply to ignore it altogether. J&K chose to finally implement the RTI Act 2009, which is close on the lines of the Central RTI Act 2009, after immense citizen campaign. Until then, the J&K state RTI Act 2004 and J&K RTI (Amendment) Act, 2008, were in use. Now that both Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are legally Union Territories (UTs), they would have to come under the Central RTI Act 2005.
 
To reorganise the state of J&K and Ladakh, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha passed the J&K Reorganisation Bill 2019 last week. Its Section 95 states that all Central laws in Table -1 of the Fifth Schedule to this Act, on and from the appointed day, shall apply to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and also the Union Territory of Ladakh. The Schedule lists 106 Central laws and the RTI Act is one of them.
 
So, what would be the repercussions?  A Union Territory has no right to appoint information commissioners, so the J&K state information commission will be automatically abolished.  RTI applicants of J&K will soon have to file their second appeals to one of the Central information commissioners in Delhi. Hence, there could be longer pendencies of second appeals. The J&K state RTI Act 2009 had specific deadlines for information commissioners to dispose of second appeals, which is absent from the Centre’s RTI Act 2005.
 
States Venkatesh Nayak, research scholar of RTI and programme coordinator of The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), “Now people in J&K and Ladakh will have to wait for a long time for their appeals to be decided as the Central law does not fix a time limit for the CIC. Under the state law, the state information commission was required to decide appeals within 60-120 days. The caseload at CIC will also increase manifold, thanks to these changes. Unless concrete steps are taken to address these challenges, the waiting period for appeals and complaints in the CIC may increase beyond the minimum of one year that is currently being experienced by appellants and complainants.’’
 
Mr Nayak further states, “Further, the Central Act, unlike the state Act does not contain any provision for the first appellate authority to make a reference against an errant PIO to the information commission to impose a penalty. This is another negative impact of the changes being contemplated. Departmental control over PIOs will be reduced further. In fact, the Central RTI Act must include such a positive provision.’’
 
On the other side, so far, only the residents of Jammu & Kashmir could file RTI applications; now any citizen from any part of the country can file an RTI application to any public authority of Jammu & Kashmir Union Territories.
 
In the past three years, the J&K state information commission has not filed its annual report; hence there is no clarity on the number of pending second appeals. It is estimated at 400 pendencies, but what will happen to these in terms of time for their disposals and which Central information commissioner would be looking into them?
 
Since RTI activists in J&K are uncontactable, it was not possible to get their views.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
 
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    COMMENTS

    P M Ravindran

    2 weeks ago

    Glad to know that the JK RTI Act had these two good provisions-for 1st appellate authorities to make reference to the information commissioners to penalise the defaulting PIOs and also specifying time limits for information commissioners to dispose of the cases. The first appellate authorities are practically redundant as far as the central act is concerned. Because they do not have powers to punish the PIOs they are normally seen taking the short cut by supporting the PIOs. And the information commissioners are also indifferent to recommend administrative action against defaulting first appellate authorities. Anyhow the whole process of handling complaints and appeals by the information commissions have to be revised to make then transparent, fair and effective. For details please go through my blog at https://www.scribd.com/document/344242826/Rti-rules-2017-Redrafted-by-Rti-Activist

    ‘Use RTI to save RTI’ movement begins Across the Country as President Kovind Gives Assent to the RTI Amendment Bill
    That, President Ram Nath Kovind was to sign the Right to Information (RTI) Amendment 2019 Bill sent to him for assent manifested in the police action on Thursday, when people, who had gone to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, to petition the President to ask him to withhold his assent, were detained. So, not surprisingly, President Kovind, who despite being part of the committee, which recommended it is of utmost importance to have autonomy for the post of information commissions, gave in to the anti-people amendments that was recently passed by both the houses of Parliaments.
     
    A press release issued by National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) says, “As people were reaching the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the police turned up in large numbers and detained all those who were present and took them in buses to Mandir Marg Police Station. None of the people who had gathered there were allowed to submit their petitions at the Rashtrapati Bhawan secretariat.
     
    The police detained 66 people and many others were not allowed to reach the Rashtrapati Bhawan and were turned away. Later the police allowed only three people to enter and deliver some of the petitions. Subsequently, the others were allowed to leave.
     
    We term the detention and police preventing people from giving their petitions to the President as a serious attack on free speech and democracy.”
     
    “It is indeed a Black Day for our democracy as the RTI Act which was implemented in 2005 after several years of peoples’ movement, has been stymied. Now, the only hope is to file petitions in different High Courts and Supreme Court, which activists, across the country, will decide by the weekend.”
     
    In the meanwhile, NCPRI co-convenors Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey and former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah who addressed a press conference to launch the `Use RTI to Save RTI campaign’ are urging people across the country to file RTI applications in large numbers. 
     
    They state, “under the `Use RTI to Save RTI’ campaign on the 1st of every month RTI applications will be filed across the country in conjunction with social movements and peoples’ groups to seek information on key issues of public interest. On the 1st of August, nearly 100 questions through RTI applications have been filed seeking information on issues ranging from social security, defence procurement including Rafael aircrafts, land acquisitions, ration, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Unnao rape case, functioning of the Lokpal, functioning of hospitals, deployment of teachers and many more.’’ 
     
    RTI applications that have been prepared and filed can be accessed at from this link https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Jypwzj7oMAzcg9QdGOIQhW217BxK79_1/view?usp=drivesdk
     
    The ‘Use RTI to Save RTI’ campaign was launched in multiple states on Friday – Odisha, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Kerala. It will be taken up in other states in the coming days. RTI applications will be filed on the 1st of every month and a portal where all the RTI applications and replies will be uploaded is being developed on righttoinformation.info where details of the campaign are also available, says Ms Bharadwaj. For any further queries, you may contact 9650346518, 9810273984, 9818838588.
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    COMMENTS

    P M Ravindran

    3 weeks ago

    '....Wajahat Habibullah who addressed a press conference to launch the `Use RTI to Save RTI campaign’'- must be the joke of the millennium. Please refer my blog http://raviforjustice.blogspot.com/2012/01/rti-old-application-to-president-to.html. It is my petition to the then President to remove Wajahat Habibulla, the first Chief Information Commissioners of Central Information Commission, for his stupid decisions. Yes, I had also petitioned the Governor of Kerala to remove all the information commissioners of Kerala SIC also. This petition is available at http://www.slideshare.net/raviforjustice/rti-compker-govksic071107to-remove-i-cs and another one at http://www.slideshare.net/raviforjustice/rti-compker-govksic040108.

    Sudhir P Badami

    3 weeks ago

    I am glad this has been suggested by eminent RTI campaigners. I am in the process of writing on the subject and have suggested this.

    RTI Bachao: Braving Rains, Around 300 Puneites Protest Against the Amendment Bill; Campaign May Intensify
    The nation is outraged about the unwarranted amendments in the Right to Information (RTI) Amendment Bill 2019, which have been passed by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha last week, threatening to downgrade the status of the Central and state information commissions. If the President signs the bill, which is presently on his table, the amended RTI Act will empower the Central and state governments to decide the salaries and tenure of information commissioners, as per their will and fancy.  The move is clearly and brazenly calculated to summarily boot out those central information commissioners (CICs) and state information commissioners (SCICs) who give orders that hurt the powers-that-be.
     
    Pune is naturally at the forefront of the protests, since two well-respected public figures, Anna Hazare through on-the-ground campaigns across Maharashtra and Prakash Kardaley through the power of his pen and by connecting RTI activists across the country through an impressive network, fought tooth and nail to help bring in the RTI Act 2005. Well-acclaimed bureaucrat turned social activist Aruna Roy, through her Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatana (MKSS), first pioneered the RTI movement in Rajasthan, which then spread to other parts of the country.
     
     
    That the RTI Amendment Bill 2019 has disturbed the citizens was amply evident in the citizen protest held near Balgandharva Mandir, located on the arterial Jangli Maharaj Road of Pune, on 30th July evening.  Last Friday, some of us working in the RTI field like Vijay Kumbhar,  Vishwambhar Choudhari, Asim Sarode, Vivek Velankar, Jugal Rathi, Tanmay Kanitkar (youth leader) and self promptly organised a public meeting under the banner, `Mahiti-adhakar Vachva Andolan’ (Save RTI campaign). About 100 citizens, despite heavy rains, attended it and signed the petition we had made to the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, appealing to him not to sign the bill. This appeal has been sent to him.
     
     
    We also decided to hold a public protest with mobile torches at the Balgandharva Chowk. What was interesting is that word went around like wildfire through the social media – particularly Twitter and Facebook. With  a number of youngsters and several others who represented various social organisations having attended the first meeting, they spread the word around through their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Such a spontaneous  urge to be a part of an important citizen campaign was indeed heartening. 
     
     
    Pune witnessed heavy rains since the morning of Tuesday but the air of concern for the dilution of this citizen-friendly Act seemed so overpowering that between 6 pm and 7 pm, around 300 citizens thronged the venue. Most of us did not know each other, unlike other events where you are connected. Senior citizens, women, young boys and girls joined the chorus. They urged us to start a Twitter hashtag #PuneSaveRTICampaign and a FB page so that they would be in the loop about our next step and it would help them spread the word quicker.
     
     
    The protests comprised slogan-shouting to save RTI and lighting of mobile torches. The ambience was one of positivity and joy amidst the greenery that dots the hustle-bustle of Jangli Maharaj Road. Vishwambhar Choudhari stated that  “The government has taken undue advantage of its brute majority and without any precipitation has assaulted the nerve centre of the RTI Act, that is, Section 3 which pertains to the powers of information commissioners. Hence, this campaign, if need be will conclude with a public protest in Azad Maidan, Mumbai. For this, we will make a network of activists from all districts of Maharashtra.’’ 
     
    Vijay Kumbhar stated that  “We must all understand that the RTI Act, which is the only citizen-empowering Act and the ownership is with the citizens, must be protected at all costs. We must also not forget that in a democracy, citizens are the masters and the elected representatives are our caretakers and so the latter should not do any harm that is against citizens’ interest.”
     
    Youth leader, Tanmay Kanitkar stated that  “These amendments should make the citizens suspicious of the intentions of the government as it wants to withhold crucial information that the public has the right to know.’’
    The protests ended with the national anthem and with a vow that the network will continue to collectively put pressure on the government.
     
     
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
     
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    COMMENTS

    P M Ravindran

    3 weeks ago

    I have no hesitation in commenting that those who are crying wolf over the amendments to the RTI Act are either ignorant of the RTI Act or the amendments or both. I am reminded of a quip in Malayalam which when translated would mean ' I know that kajal is white like turmeric.' I am also reminded of what Mahatma once said ' even if I am only one who is saying the truth, I shall continue to say the truth' or words to that effect. Those interested may read my blog at https://www.slideshare.net/raviforjustice/rti-rules-2017redrafted-by-rti-activist. The job of an information commissioner is simpler than that of a munsif in our courts. By giving them the status and pay and perks of a CEC, EC and Chief Secretary to State governments the information commissions have been reduced to rehabilitation centers for the most useless 'public servants' retiring from service . Worse, the RTI Act has been totally subverted by these very information commissioners who are just seen having holidays at the taxpayers' cost. Right from the procedure followed in deciding complaints and appeals to the decisions themselves everything is a fraud in these commissions. So much so that these days I am pursuing applications and appeals under the RTI Act only with the following mission: SAVE RIGHT TO INFORMATION. USE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT.
    GET INFORMATION OR...... EXPOSE ATLEAST THREE IDIOTS/TRAITORS* AMOUNG PUBLIC SERVANTS!
    1. THE PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER
    2. THE FIRST APPELLATE AUTHORITY (AND THE HEAD OF PUBLIC AUTHORITY WHERE THE HEAD OF THE PUBLIC AUTHORITY IS NOT THE FAA!) AND
    3. THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER

    * An idiot is one who does not know the job s/he is getting paid to do and a traitor is one who knows it but does not do it. Provided that even an idiot can be branded a traitor based on the consequences of his/her action

    gcmbinty

    3 weeks ago

    The campaign against weakening of RTI, and also the Consumer Protect Act 1986, has got to be intensified across the country and the people of India have to show their unity and strength to tell the government that it is democracy not dictatorship in India.

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