Right to Information: Sidelined and Out of Reach

Right to Information: Sidelined and Out of Reach, With more than 1200 e-services available in J&K, Why does Online RTI continue to be sidelined by the Government even as it talks about AI?

For many years now, I along with my colleagues have been rigorously campaigning for allowing residents of Jammu & Kashmir to access information through a digital platform. This author has written extensively on this subject and were even given assurance by none other than the then J&K Chief Secretary Dr A K Mehta himself. It is almost three months since we met the Chief Secretary but RTI doesn’t find a place on the e-platform even as J&K Govt claims to be number 1 in the country by providing more than 1200 online services to people.

After our meeting with the Chief Secretary, some local newspapers carried news that an online RTI portal would be launched by the Govt. After meeting a delegation of RTI activists in Srinagar and Jammu, the then Chief Secretary Dr A K Mehta had directed the Administrative Secretary of Information Technology Department to develop an online RTI portal on the pattern of the portal of the Central Government.

The Chief Secretary has directed all the departments to adopt proactive measures for training of the Public Information Officers (PIOs), who were supposed to have a three days training before handling the role of PIO. Neither have people been given the online RTI facility nor are PIOs given training to handle the RTI applications.

Assurance given by Chief Secretary

Infact, in 2022 as well, the Govt had given assurances about the creation of an online RTI platform in J&K and the then Chief Secretary 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 even as we have entered 2024 and first month of this year is also coming to an end the citizens in J&K continue to seek information under Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI Act) through the archaic and obsolete ways by going to office and filing an RTI application. In many cases, the PIOs are not in office and the applicants have to come back, moving from pillar to post in the Govt offices. Some applicants who are a bit well versed with RTI file it via speed post but in many cases the application isn’t responded to at all.

As on date, citizens intending to seek information under RTI in J&K write down an RTI application, take its printout, then purchase the Indian Postal Order (IPO) of Rs 10 which isn’t available in all the local post offices. The application is then sent via speed post / registered post or dropped personally in a Govt office. But this isn’t 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 being ruled by the centre for more than 5 years, why are not the same services being given to people here?

Challenges faced by RTI applicants

Due to non-availability of the online RTI facility in J&K, the applicants face lots of challenges. They face difficulty especially to deposit RTI application fees of Rs 10 in the shape of Indian Postal Order (IPO). To buy an Indian Postal Order (IPO) is a difficult task in J&K. I have not come across a single post office in any urban or rural area of J&K where Rs 10 Indian Postal Orders (IPOs) are available freely. I have been writing about it for last many years now. In a city like Srinagar or Jammu, or Srinagar, one can buy an IPO from a post office that too in GPO , but in districts or tehsil headquarters this is impossible and in smaller villages or towns one cannot even think of getting an IPO from a local post office?

If a person from a remote village of Poonch or Kishtwar wants to file an RTI application, the RTI applicant will have to travel all the way from his or her village to district headquarters and again there is no guarantee that IPO will be available or not.

I know many RTI applicants who travelled all the way from Kupwara or Bandipora to Srinagar General Post Office GPO to buy a Rs 10 Postal Order. This is unacceptable.

Had online RTI service been available in J&K like central Govt offices, people living in remote areas like Gurez Bandipora or Machil in Kupwara Dachan or Pader in Kishtwar district could also access information from their mobile phones. To seek information through an offline mode, an RTI applicant has to travel to Govt offices, pay bus fare and then spend the whole day in the town. This is a more costly affair even for those applicants who live under Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. The BPL applicants have not to pay Rs 10 IPO but to send the RTI application via speed post is a challenge for them. They have to travel to a town to send the application to the Govt office through a speed post. In some cases these poor applicants travel to their tehsil, block or district headquarters spending at least Rs 300 to 500 plus leaving their work for a day.


Infact last year’s theme of International RTI Day (September 28th 2023) was also focussed on Access to Information through digital mode. The theme was titled as “The Importance of the online space for access to Information”. At a time when the Govt of India talks about embracing artificial intelligence -AI to reshape the Governance and Public services delivery I am unable to understand why J&K Govt isn’t giving its citizens the access to seek information electronically ? I request the incumbent Chief Secretary to take this issue seriously and ask the IT Department to launch an online RTI portal in J&K without any delay