Making RTI an engine of development
RTI (Right to Information) is an important instrument for strengthening democracy and accelerating economic development of the rural areas in particular. Right to Information Act provides impetus for development process and remedy to corruption in public authorities. Though the Act exempts certain categories of information from disclosure, it is extremely helpful for the socio-economic development of the rural areas. There are many government schemes and crores of rupees are pumped in the name of targeted programmes into rural development projects. Though some progress has been made but not to the desired extent.
Rural Kashmir is still marked by high incidence of illiteracy, unemployment, malnutrition among infants, poor infrastructure, lack of participation of women and other vulnerable groups in economic activities and many other socio-economic problems. This was admitted by the District Development Commissioner Budgam in a Round Table Conference on RTI that was held at Conference Hall DC Office Budgam on 18th of July 2016. Besides presenting District Budgam as the most backward in the state, The DDC was dismayed over the poor literacy rate of the rural areas like Hardpanzoo, Khag, Khansahib etc. wherein literacy rate is around 40 percent only. The failure in improving the rural scenario is attributed less to the formulation of policies and more to their implementation. The problem lies in ignorance on the part of people about the details of the programmes and prevalence of widespread corruption during their execution. It is in this background that RTI Act makes path-breaking impacts.
RTI and Development (Case Study):
Information is said to be the key to socio-economic development of any nation. Many civic groups are using the right to information much like a weapon in their respective battles. In Baramulla, Nasir Hussain Sofi, who is an illiterate but conscious citizen of a tail end village “Mallabuchan”, joined us in J&K RTI Foundation last year in 2016. We were successful in convincing him that it is not that the government has no money to spend on the welfare of people; but that much of this money gets illegally diverted. We provided him training on RTI and till now he has filed just two RTI Applications, one in the office of I&FCTangmarg and another in the ACD Office Baramulla. His first application has resulted in the construction of a bund at his village which saved five other villages as well from the Nallah Ferozpora floods recently. The long pending demand of people for the construction of bund was fulfilled within three days from the date of filing RTI Application and this success story was published in the book released by Rajnath Singh in the annual convention on RTI at New Delhi in 2016. Another RTI that he has filed in the ACD Office has already exposed a scam of SBM Scheme and an amount of Rs 75000 have been recovered from the concerned sarpanch who along with the field functionaries of the RDD had misappropriated the funds. The complaint is under process at the State Information Commission. Within two weeks three gram sabhas have been conducted in the halqa and a vigilance committee formed for the effective implementation of the RDD schemes. Everybody now thinks of the rural development than the embezzlement of funds. Nasir Hussain Sofi is very much empowered when he finds his village getting developed by the effective use of RTI.
Considering the importance of RTI Act for sustainable rural development, many social scientists have presented their well-considered views on different issues pertaining to the development of rural economy. The Round Table Conference that was chaired by Chief Information Commissioner, Mr. Khursheed Ahmad Ganaie at Budgam has brought some important realities to the fore. Only around 1300 applications have been filed in 2016-17 which means only around 0.95 percent of people have used the Act. Our current State Chief Information Commissioners, Mr. Khursheed Ahmad Ganie, since from the day he was appointed as CIC, has shown his interest towards the effective implementation and awareness of RTI in the state. He seems to have reinitiated the whole process, thereby warning PIO’s, passing orders for appointment of PIOs/FAAs and stressing on suo motu disclosure and use of RTI as an engine of development. The passion of our State Chief Information Commissioner for the promotion and effective implementation of Right to Information in the State to bring transparency and accountability is clearly visible and first time in J&K, are seen together, the Activists and the PIOs/FAAs, discussing the RTI Act’s implementation on regular basis. This was the fifth round table conference on RTI in the state chaired by Khursheed Sb. since his appointment that was attended by District Development Commissioner, all PIO’s/APIO’s, FAA’s and RTI Activists from different areas of the valley. Since we are having only one Commissioner for SIC at present, it becomes the deemed responsibility of all the PIOs/FAAs/Activists and all other stakeholders of RTI to work for the promotion of RTI in the state so that it could be used as an effective tool of development. Greater access of rural communities to information could significantly improve the standard of living of the rural people in such a way that it will definitely make us a power.
Er. Irfan Banka
(The writer is Chairman, J&K RTI Foundation and can be reached at email@example.com)