Very recently, the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG), Government of India released a report on National e-services Delivery Assessment (NeSDA) wherein Jammu & Kashmir ranked One vis a vis e-services delivery. As per the report, J&K Government is said to have been providing 1028 e-services and has thus surpassed Madhya Pradesh which provides 1010 e-services and Kerala which has 911 online services for its citizens. This is indeed a great achievement for the people of Jammu & Kashmir but as a long time Right to Information (RTI) campaigner, I feel dejected and dispirited when I don’t see RTI in the list of 1028 online/ e-services.
According to a press statement by the Government, issued in response to the aforementioned report, the Digital J&K programme was launched in mission mode last year. The number of online services has increased exponentially from 35 services in 2019 to 1028 services as on date.
“The remarkable digital journey of J&K and the resultant transformation from a laggard status in e-governance to a leading position in such a short span of time is unprecedented. This has brought about a paradigm shift resulting in increased transparency, accountability and efficiency at all levels. There has been a palpable reduction in corruption and increase in citizen satisfaction”, reads the Govt statement
Union Secretary, Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances -DARPG, Mr V Srinivas, congratulated the Govt of J&K for this great achievement. He stated that the NeSDA framework, developed by DARPG has played a pivotal role in catalyzing the improvement in the uptake, volume, and quality of e-services.
Offline to Online
Last year, in December, the J&K Chief Secretary Dr A K Mehta 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 September is coming to an end, the citizens in J&K continue to seek information under Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI Act) through an offline mode which is completely obsolete.
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. 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 4 years, why are not the same facilities given to people of J&K ?
Ladakh starts Online RTI portal
As J&K Govt fails to give its citizens the right to access information through an electronic mode, the Union Territory of Ladakh has taken a lead instead. The Ladakh UT administration last month (August 18th) launched and started a web portal namely RTI online to facilitate the citizens in filing RTI applications and first appeals through an online platform www.rtionline.ladakh.gov.in. As per the official order issued by UT of Ladakh, the web portal will be managed and supervised by General Administration Department (GAD)
“An RTI cell with officers Sonam Chhosdon, Deputy Secretary and Mohammad Shafi, Junior Assistant, GAD, has also been constituted accordingly,” said the order. The order further says that RTI cell and the portal shall be serviced by the Accounts wing of the GAD. All the Public Information Officers (PIOs) and First Appellate Authorities (FAAs) have been directed by Ladakh GAD to ensure disposal of RTI applications filed through online mode on the designated portal in a time bound manner as per the timeline prescribed under Acts and Rules.
The accounts wing of the Ladakh GAD has also been directed through the same order to supervise and maintain the online fee receipts and ensure its timely transfer to relevant heads. The UT Govt of Ladakh has set up a technical support team controlled by GAD for maintenance, hosting, and other IT support for smooth operation and running of the new RTI portal by using the manpower that has already been hired through an outsourcing agency. The NIC Ladakh is providing all required support to GAD in technical matters vis a vis online RTI. Pertinently the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh, Brigadier (Dr) BD Mishra (Retd) on February 26 this year had instructed his Principal Secretary Sanjeev Khirwar to fix a timeline to launch the RTI Online Portal at the earliest. The LG during a few meetings at Raj Niwas Leh early this year had inquired about the reasons for the delay in launching the RTI online portal in Ladakh. It is heartening to know that finally online RTI is a reality in Ladakh and the Govt of J&K must also follow the footsteps of UT of Ladakh by launching an RTI portal soon.
This author along with other volunteers associated with Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement have been doing a lot of advocacy for online RTI facilities in J&K. For the last many years I have been writing about it and one of our committed activists namely Syed Adil from Ganderbal used the RTI application as a tool to ensure RTI goes digital in J&K. Adil sought information about all this from the Govt of India around January end this year. He filed an application 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 application to J&K Govt (General Administration Department-GAD) and the Govt had no option but to say in writing that online RTI will be a reality in J&K very soon. It is now around 4 months and we still struggle to seek information through an offline mode.
Today is September 28th and this day is celebrated as The International Day for Universal Access to Information or International Access to Information Day or RTI Day. This day was proclaimed on 15 October 2019 at the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This year’s global celebrations are being held at Oxford, United Kingdom on September 28th 2023 and the entire programme will revolve around the theme titled as “The Importance of the online space for access to Information” . The theme will also encompass discussions and deliberations on the challenges and opportunities posed by the internet and the significance of accessing information through an online mode and implications of internet shutdowns and online censorship. I think today’s day and the theme of this day should be a wakeup call for Jammu & Kashmir Govt. If the Govt of J&K is providing 1028 online services to its citizens what prevents them from not including online RTI service in this list and make it 1029?