Kashmiris Struggle With RTI Delays Due To Modi Govt’s Ill-Planned Article 370 Move

Kashmiris Struggle With RTI Delays Due To Modi Govt’s Ill-Planned Article 370 Move

A review of two recent CIC orders and interviews with activists show that in Kashmir, an existing RTI system that ensured relatively quicker access to information for local residents has been replaced by a slower process riddled with red tape.

Nov 19, 2011


NEW DELHI—The Narendra Modi government’s hasty abrogation of Article 370, the constitutional provision which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, has led to months of confusion and delay for people seeking information from government departments, shows a review of two recent orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and interviews with activists.

At the time of abrogation of the controversial provision, some news reports, as well as rightwing activists and websites,had claimed that the Right to Information (RTI) Act would now be applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, implying that there was no such law in the state earlier due to Article 370.

In fact, until 5 August 2019, the erstwhile state was governed by its own version of the transparency law, the J&K RTI Act 2009. Now, more than a year since the abrogation of Article 370, a review of two recent orders of the CIC and interviews with activists shows that an existing RTI system that ensured relatively quicker access to information for local residents has been replaced by a slower, chaotic process riddled with red tape, mainly because of the lack of planning and public consultation that went into the decision of scrapping Article 370.

While the 2009 J&K RTI Act was limited to residents of the state, it mandated the state information commission to dispose of second appeals in 60-120 days. The central RTI Act of 2005 does not have any such provision. The net result of this was that RTI applicants received information, or at least a clear decision about their request, faster under the 2009 Act than they do now under the 2005 law which was operationalised in the union territory after scrapping of Article 370. 

The two CIC orders reviewed by HuffPost India specifically show how residents of the now-union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, who were trying to seek information from public authorities last year under the state’s own RTI law, were adversely affected by the abrupt scrapping of Article 370. 

In one case, an RTI applicant from Jammu was denied information by local civic authorities, who cited the repeal of Article 370 as the reason for the denial. In the second instance, the RTI applicant, apparently a resident of Kashmir, was told that his response was inordinately delayed due to the lockdown imposed in the valley after the removal of Article 370. 

“This is yet another instance of the unintended outcome of the rash manner in which fundamental changes to the status of J&K were made without any public consultation or adequate application of mind,” said Venkatesh Nayak, who heads the Access to Information Programme at the non-profit Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.  

Speaking about the CIC orders and his own experience of pursuing RTI cases in what is now a union territory, Jammu-based activist Raman Sharma said that the previous system under the 2009 RTI Act of the state was better, even if it had some limitations.

“It is true that as per section 3 of the J&K RTI Act 2009, only people residing in the state were allowed to seek information. But it is also true that in comparison with the central RTI law of 2005, the previous state RTI Act was more vibrant and ensured time-bound disposal of even second appeals,” Sharma said. “Whereas in the RTI Act 2005, there is no time limit for disposal of second appeals by the Central Information Commission.”

The practical consequences of this technical difference are significant. 

“Earlier, our second appeals were disposed of and decisions were coming within 60-120 days and the appellants were able to get time-bound information but presently after implementation of Central RTI, even my own and my friends’ second appeals/complaints are pending with the CIC for last 5-6 months,” said Sharma.

He also alleged that, with the central RTI Act in force, “the public information officers here also now do not take RTI Act seriously because they know that appeals would take long to be decided. Hence they do not respond to RTI pleas of the citizens”.  Read More