Doda-based activist accuses forest officials of violating RTI norms

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Srinagar: More than a year after the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s limited-autonomy and the shutting down of the information commission, information transparency activists in Kashmir continue to be stalled by government officials responsible for timely disbursal of public information under the Right To Information (RTI) Act. In a recent case, Doda-based information rights activist has alleged non-compliance of officials of the Forest Department, now a corporation, with the law.

The activist, Adil Farooq, a resident of Bhaderwah Tehsil told The Kashmir Walla that he had filed an RTI application to the corporation in Bhaderwah on 9 October 2020 but didn’t receive the information in the stipulated time of 40 days, following which the corporation is demanding a fee of one thousand rupees in violation of the RTI Act — under the law, information provided after the lapse of the stipulated time must be provided free of cost.

Farooq said that he filed the first appeal before the Chief Conservator of Forest on 19 November, following which he had received a letter directing him to pay the fees for the information sought under the application.  “I received a letter after submitting my first appeal,” Farooq said, further alleging that the response by the corporation was backdated. “They have written 11-11-2020 on the letter while I received it after 19 November.”

Dealing Assistant at the local forest authority , Ramesh Sharma, however, denied the allegations. “We sent a letter to him within a month,” he said. “If he can’t deposit 1000 rupees fees then you can come to our divisional office on any working day and can take your information”.

Farooq had sought information regarding government contracts awarded in the last two years, along with the details of departmental works of building with quotations and money sanctioned, besides seeking copies “of attested form-30, form-6, and form-17, and attested copy of inquiry report of Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Bhaderwah regarding the installation of illegal Bathies [brick kilns] and final report of DFO Bhaderwah regarding fixing of responsibility in case of illegal Bathies at Kellar range”.

Farooq said that he had written to the Divisional Forest Officer in Bhaderwah after receiving the letter informing them of the law pertaining to providing information after the lapse of stipulated time. “Sub Section 6 of Section 7 of the RTI Act 2005 clearly says that no fee will be charged wherein a public authority fails to comply within the time limit,” the letter reads. “This is totally illegal,” he said. “I still didn’t get any information I have asked for.”

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