Could you believe that despite the Central Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 having come into effect after the abrogation of Article 370, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)’s Public Service Commission (JKPSC), early this January has actually returned an application along with the postal fee of Rs10? The JKPSC stated that J&K’s RTI Act 2009 is repealed after the abrogation of Article 370 and so he cannot provide information to the applicant.
It may be noted that by virtue of the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019, the RTI Act 2005 was one among the many laws that came under the centralised list of Acts that have been implemented in the now union territory of Jammu & Kashmir (which was earlier a State). Hence, even if the J&K RTI Act 2009 has been repealed, it does not mean that people of the valley have no RTI law that they can fall back upon. They are now under the Centre’s RTI Act 2005.
As leading RTI activist and chairman of J&K RTI movement, Raja Muzaffar Bhat, who was detained for three months and has recently been released, states, “If J&K RTI Act 2009 has been repealed that does not mean that after the abrogation of Article 370 the people of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh will have no access to information; it must be provided under RTI Act 2005 which is in force now.”
However, that does not seem to be the case. Several senior government officers and public authorities are taking this opportunity to misinform people that they cannot file applications as the J&K RTI Act does not exist and allegedly many people are falling for this spread of malicious information.
Take the case of RTI applicant Ajay Kumar, which highlights the plight of citizens in the valley who are invoking their right to procure their rightful information. He is a resident of Keri Manyalan in Rajouri district, a remote village located on the Line of Control (LoC), where residents continuously suffer due to cross border shelling. Due to this, he is eligible for the special reservation of jobs in various government departments as he is considered a resident of the Actual Line of Control (ALC).
In 2017, Kumar, who creditably post-graduated in geography, with merit despite residing in a real time conflict zone, applied for the post of assistant geography professor, reserved for ALC candidates only, as advertised by the Public Service Commission in the newspapers. However, when Kumar came to know that a non-ALC candidate has been shortlisted for the post, he filed an RTI application. This initiative by him itself was enough for causing this non-ALC candidate to be barred from the interview, at the eleventh hour. However, two other non-ALC candidates were interviewed and Kumar was not called for the interview despite his being the most eligible candidate as an ALC resident as well as by academic merit.
After being informed that non-ALC candidates have been shortlisted, Kumar sought information under RTI, regarding full details of candidates, along with their parentage and full address, who had applied under the ALC category for the post of assistant professor of geography; photocopies of forms of all the ALC candidates; merit list of ALC candidates; names of ALC candidates called for interview; details of candidates who were called for interview but whose interview was not conducted and; reasons for not conducting the interview of a female candidate from Baramulla (name withheld) and the category under which she had to appear in the interview. Kumar was denied information by the public information officer (PIO) citing third party information and because information was not available to some of his queries. Kumar filed his first appeal with the FAA but it was never disposed of.
Kumar filed a fresh RTI application on 27 December, 2019, seeking certified copies of file notings by the secretary and deputy secretary of the Public Service Commission (PSC) regarding his case, wherein both had recommended that Kumar be interviewed under the ALC category but allegedly this was thwarted by the chairman of PSC. This is when the PIO of PSC took advantage of the repeal of the J&K Act 2009 after the abrogation of Article 370, in an attempt to fool Kumar by sending back his RTI query along with his Rs10 postal order on 6 January 2020. Bhat, who is holding Kumar’s hand in this contentious issue, asks, “Why can’t the documents with file notings not be provided to Kumar under the RTI Act 2005 which is in vogue now in the valley?’’
Bhat has challenged the J&K’s Public Service Commission to answer these queries:
a) If J&K’s RTI law was repealed after the abrogation of Article 370, the why didn’t the PIO of JKPSC provide information to Ajay Kumar under the Central RTI Act 2005 which is in force in J&K & Ladakh? and
b) How could he simply send the RTI application back to information seeker via speed post?
Ajay Kumar is now knocking at the doors of the Central Information Commission (CIC) which now is in far off Delhi. Which is another problem as, for the second appeal hearings the RTI applicants would now be made to travel to Delhi.
Bhat laments the repealing of the J&K RTI Act 2009. Says he, ``I wish the J&K RTI Act was not repealed like 160 other J&K laws that are still in operation after the abrogation of Article 370. If JK Public Services Guarantee Act 2011 (PSGA) was not repealed and is still a protected legislation, what was the need to repeal J&K RTI Act 2009? People like Ajay Kumar would not have to suffer at the hands of officials posted in JKPSC. I would appeal to the government, especially the chief secretary, to take a strong note of this.’’
(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”