By Frederick Noronha
Pune : India's landmark Right to Information (RTI) Act is not being applied to Jammu and Kashmir. For a change, the state's citizen-campaigners are blaming their politicians for ducking a law that could benefit the people.
"I represent Jammu and Kashmir. But I'm sorry to say that this strong, pro-people's law has not been implemented in my state," said Raja Muzaffar Bhat, a social activist from Budgam in Kashmir.
Speaking at a national conference of RTI campaigners here, Bhat said his state was "sandwiched" between corruption and political instability, and if any state really needed the RTI Act, it was undoubtedly Jammu and Kashmir.
Bhat cited recent statistics that ranked Kashmir second in corruption in India, after Bihar. The rise in unemployment in the strife-torn state was "directly proportional" to the growth in corruption-related malpractices, he charged.
"The prime minister had sanctioned Rs.24 billion two years ago as a special package for Jammu and Kashmir. But we don't see any development on the ground," Raja told IANS.
He stressed the need to battle corruption through the act, which was passed in June 2005, and make a difference in the lives of Kashmiris.
He said that the "hundreds" of people who went missing while in custody also deserved to get transparency in governance through mechanisms like the RTI Act.
"RTI can also help to bring culprits to book in cases like fake encounters," Bhatt asserted.
Bhat alleged that politicians were unwilling to extend the RTI act in the state, saying even opposition leaders failed to raise the issue in the assembly.
He appealed to United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi to implement the law in Jammu and Kashmir as soon as possible.
In February 2006, the chief justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court treated an email from Bhat as public interest litigation (PIL).
A division bench recently sent notice to the Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary, seeking an explanation about the lack of a workable RTI Act in the state.
But Bhat maintained that India's information act was one of the best in the world – only it still had to be implemented everywhere.
"The (Right to Information) Act is one of the strongest such acts in the world. Till 2005, the Canadian information act was considered the strongest," he argued.
(Frederick Noronha can be contacted at [email protected])