“Civil servants or Maharajas?”: RTI activists accuse J-K admin of scuttling accountability

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Information rights activists are yet again accusing the Jammu and Kashmir administration of disregarding the Right to Information Act and scuttling the free flow of information to the public. Activists have highlighted the fact that government websites are either unavailable or lack the regular updation of information.

For instance, the Rural Development Department only has a website pertaining to the officers in the directorate and no administrative information is updated on a regular basis. “There is no website for the administrative level of this department,” said Raja Muzaffar Bhat, who heads the J-K RTI Movement, adding that there are many other departments that do not have websites. “The information that people have to ask through RTI should already have been available on their websites.”

Bhat’s colleagues at the RTI Movement have been seeking information on the number of residents given financial assistance under the Prime Minister Awas Yojana for constructing their houses but to no avail. “This information should have been available on the website of the Rural Development Department.”

The government departments must maintain information on their websites under Section 4 of the RTI Act of 2005, said Bhat. “It is clearly mentioned in the sub-section 1 (b) of section 4 that all the developmental information should be voluntarily out there for people through digital media such as these websites,” he said.

Qazi Sarwar, Director of the Rural Development Department said that there is an administrative website of the department that is currently under maintenance. “It is not functional right now. We will look into the matter,” he said.

Manoj Kumar Diwedi, Secretary at General Administration Department (GAD) said that all major departments of J-K have their own websites but some departments do not require separate websites for directorate and administration as their functioning was on the directorate level. “The GAD had issued a circular regarding that same and had directed that all departments should maintain their websites and that the information should be up to date,” Diwedi told The Kashmir Walla. “Now that the issue has been raised, we will look into the matter again.”

More recently, information rights activists have accused the Deputy Commissioner of Budgam, Shahbaz Mirza, of indifference to activists seeking accountability. Irfan Ahmad of the J-K RTI Foundation tweeted to Mirza: “@DC_Budgam your website is not updated. Employees transfered, contacts and designations mismatching.”

Ahmad was immediately blocked on the social networking site by DC Mirza, prompting Bhat to tweet if Bhat was a “Civil Servant or a Maharaja?” Since the abrogation of J-K’s limited autonomy and in the absence of an elected government, the bureaucracy has been in-charge with direct oversight of the Bharatiya Janata Party led central government.

Since then, seeking accountability has been a near impossible task even under the RTI Act, Bhat said, owing to the dissolution of the State Information Commission and bringing the erstwhile state, of more than 12 million residents, under the Central Information Commission. “They [administration officials] take advantage of the poor people who cannot travel to Delhi to get their complaints heard,” said Bhat.

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