Advocacy for Digital RTI Regime in J&K
Srinagar: 08 May 2023: CAN you believe that a simple application filed under the Right to Information Act (RTI) will act as a strong tool to sensitize not only the local government but also even the Govt of India? Since long, the Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement has been doing advocacy for having an online RTI facility available in Jammu & Kashmir. Many articles were written and videos were made to mobilise the advocacy around the issue. All this work did sensitize the Govt to some extent but no positive results were seen.
One of our committed activists namely Syed Adil from Ganderbal used RTI application as a tool to do advocacy on ensuring 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.
Advocacy on RTI via RTI
It is official now: The Jammu & Kashmir Govt is mulling 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, a committed RTI activist and IT professional.
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 the Department of Personnel & Trainings (DoPT) Govt of India who further forwarded it to the 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 finalized , the same shall be shared in public domain through designated website www.gad.jk.nic.in”
Online RTI in J&K
In December last year, 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 December16th 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.
Syed 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 are 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 being directly ruled by the centre for the last many years, why are not the same facilities given to people of J&K?
If the J&K Chief Secretary has given clear directions to make all the offline services online by Jan 15th 2023, what is preventing Govt officers from adhering to his orders? 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. A lot of funds are provided for e-governance in J&K. More than 5 lakh files were digitized in civil secretariat J&K, but when it comes to giving online RTI facility to citizens of J&K, 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.
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