A simple application filed under the Right to Information Act (RTI) has acted as a tool to sensitise the Govt for creating an online RTI portal. For a long time Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement has been doing advocacy for having online RTI facility available in J&K. This author wrote several Op-Eds on the subject in the last 2 years. All this work did sensitise the Govt to some extent but no positive results were seen on the ground.
To carry on the advocacy work Syed Adil, one of our committed activists from Kurhama, Ganderbal, used RTI application as a tool to do advocacy on digital RTI regime in J&K. Adil sought information about Govt’s plans and steps taken on making the online RTI portal operational in J&K. The RTI application was filed in January this year before the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY). The Ministry forwarded the application under section 6 (3) to Department of Personnel and Trainings (DoPT) Govt of India which works under the Prime Ministers Office (PMO). The DoPT further forwarded Adil’s RTI application to J&K Govt -General Administration Department (GAD). The J&K Govt after deliberations finally gave in writing that filing of online RTI applications / first appeals will be a reality in J&K very soon.
Jammu & Kashmir Govt has decided to provide the facility for online RTI application filing along with filing of the first appeals soon. This was revealed by the General Administration Department (GAD) in a reply provided to Syed Adil some weeks back. Adil is a committed RTI activist and IT professional who has been associated with the RTI Movement for the last several years. When Govt of J&K was not acting on the ground vis a vis providing online RTI facility for citizens of J&K in spite of assurances from Govt that all offline services would go online from January 15th 2023, Adil decided to seek information on this issue from Govt of India around January end this year. The applicant sought information related to the online RTI facility from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) Govt of India. The application filed in the Ministry reads:
“Whether the Central Government or Jammu & Kashmir Administration proposes to set up Online service of RTI Application in Jammu & Kashmir UT if so, the details thereof. If not, the time by which such facilities are likely to be set up or easily available in the said UT – Jammu & Kashmir as LT LG J&K claimed all offline services have been shut down after 15th January 2023? Whether the Central Government or Jammu & Kashmir Administration has also launched ‘RTI Application Services’ on 15th January 2023 if so, the details thereof”
As explained above the Ministry forwarded the RTI application to Department of Personnel & Trainings (DoPT) Govt of India who further forwarded it to General Administration Department (GAD) of J&K Govt.
The GAD vide its RTI reply dated 2.05.2023 told RTI applicant Syed Adil that online RTI filing and first appeal was under active consideration of the Govt.
The response provided by Mohit Raina - Under Secretary who is the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) in General Administration Department- GAD Civil Secretariat Srinagar reads:
“It is informed that the matter with regard to registration of Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir with Online RTI portal of Department of Personnel and Trainings (DoPT) GoI , for facilitating the general public to file online RTI applications and first appeals is under active consideration in the GAD in consultation with Govt of India. As soon as the modalities are finalised, the same shall be shared in public domain through designated website www.gad.jk.nic.in”
CS on online services
J&K Chief Secretary Dr A K Mehta in December last year had impressed upon all the Govt offices to make all the offline services online. As per the Govt statement issued on December 16th 2022, the Chief Secretary while reviewing the performance of the Information Technology (IT) Department in a meeting, directed the officers to prepare a list of all the services provided by the Govt departments. The Chief Secretary directed the officers to separate the services still offered through offline mode and prepare a roadmap for offering the same through an online platform with end-to-end digitisation by January 15th 2023. The Chief Secretary during the meeting asked the officers of the IT department to issue advisories to different Govt departments for conducting security audits of their official websites as well without any delay. By January 15th 2023 all the offline services had to be made online, but this didn’t happen at all. Adil filed an RTI application to get information on this after the Jan 15th deadline was over. It took around 3 months to do the advocacy but this advocacy on RTI using RTI application as a tool worked actually.
The RTI applicants continue to seek information under Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI Act) through an offline mode with obsolete methods. The applicants write down an RTI application, take its printout, then go and purchase the Indian Postal Order (IPO) of Rs 10 which isn’t available in local post offices. For getting this postal order the applicants have to either go to GPO Srinagar or some bigger post office located in district headquarters. After this the applicants go in search of a post office to send the application and it takes weeks for the RTI application to reach a Govt office. On the contrary, this is not the case with central Govt offices. One can file an RTI application on a cell phone and pay application fees online. If J&K is directly ruled by the centre for the last many years, why are not the same facilities given to people of J&K and this is what senior officers in DoPT seem to have told the Govt of J&K ? and that is the reason GAD in its written reply said that online RTI is under active consideration of the Jammu & Kashmir Govt.
More than 2 years back the then Secretary Information Technology J&K Govt Mr Amit Sharma told me that filing of online RTI applications will be a reality within a few weeks. Mr Sharma said this publicly in a TV debate but again nothing happened. Lot of funds are provided for e-governance in J&K. More than 5 lakh files were digitised in civil secretariat J&K , but when it comes to giving online RTI facility to citizens of J&K the Govt officers are reluctant to do it ? Now as the Govt has said in writing that online RTI application filing plus filing of first appeal is under active consideration of Govt, people hope that by May end this would be a reality. It is heartening that Adil did advocacy for online RTI very smartly by filing a simple RTI application which acted as a strong tool in this entire process. I am unable to understand when J&K Chief Secretary has given clear directions to make all the offline services online with effect from Jan 15th 2023, what is preventing Govt officers from not adhering to his orders ?