Special Reports

Empowering Muslims through RTI

By Raja Muzaffar Bhat

The Right to Information Act (RTI Act 2005) enacted by Government of India is not applicable to Jammu & Kashmir in view of the special constitutional status of J&K state provided under article 370 of the constitution of India . It is not the case of only RTI Act which is not applicable to J&K state but all laws passed by the Indian parliament cannot be extended to Jammu & Kashmir unless the J&K legislature ratifies them. If one  could have noticed it is clearly mentioned on the Gazette Notification of any law enacted by the Parliament which reads “this law will extend to whole of India except Jammu & Kashmir”.

Thus the RTI Act 2005 could not be extended to J&K state but the state government had already enacted a similar law in J&K state  known as J&K RTI Act 2004, a year before the act passed by the Indian parliament October 2005.  The RTI Act 2005 is much better than the J&K RTI Act. Due to continuous pressure from activist groups, a new RTI law known as J&K RTI Act 2009 was enacted by the Omar Abdullah Government on 20 March, 2009. This new J&K RTI Act is similar to the Indian RTI Act. The new J&K RTI Act completed its four years last March.   

RTI Empowering Kashmiris
The RTI Act has empowered large numbers of  people not only in various parts of India but also in J&K. This is one of the unique legislations where there is no role of lawyers and people are not supposed to knock at the doors of the courts and do have to hire lawyers while seeking information from the public authorities. If we analyse the J&K RTI Act 2009, we can see many achievements. Some of them are as follows:

CM’s Chopper:
Last year a news regarding the misuse of the state chopper by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah hit the headlines not only in J&K but across India. Various New Delhi-based news channels and newspapers highlighted this issue. But what most of these news channels or newspapers missed to mention is the role of a poor man living under Below Poverty Line (BPL) who actually sought information from the Chief Minister’s office under the RTI Act.

In this whole story what strikes out is that an ordinary, illiterate, poor man - Aam Aadmi – living  in a remote hamlet of Drang Khag of Kashmir questioned the Chief Minister’s conduct. The biggest achievement in this whole scenario is seeing a poor man like Bashir Malik, the information-seeker, empowered by using his right. This aspect was more important than the whopping twelve crore expenditure on state chopper for the last two and a half years by the Chief Minister.

I have known Bashir for some time and I could feel his passion for fighting against misgovernance, nepotism, and corruption. One and a half year back Bashir could not even dare to enter the office of a Tehsildar or a Block Development Officer. What empowered Bashir so much? The answer is the RTI Act. This young man along with his friends has totally changed the style and functioning of Government offices in his area. Today there is much transparency in the allotment of money to homeless people under Indira Awas Yojna in Bashir’s Drang village. Officials of Food Supplies or Revenue Department do not dare to ask for bribe for providing BPL ration cards to people. MG NREGA is being implemented properly. Still there are lots of problems and challenges ahead for this young band of activists.

Sarpanch pays back swindled money
 Fayaz Ahmad Wani, an information-seeker, is an ordinary, semi-literate villager  who used his democratic right under the RTI Act and created a history by forcing the Sarpanch of his village to deposit swindled money back into Government chest. Recently Fayaz was awarded for his courage and valour by CNN IBN in New Delhi. Noted social activist and anti-corruption fighter Anna Hazare and Editor  of CNN IBN, Rajdeep Sardesai,   honoured this poor villager before a large august gathering. Fayaz was awarded Citizen Journalist award 2012 for his anti-corruption work using RTI as a tool.  Fayaz Ahmad Wani had turned citizen journalist last year after the RTI exposé of Indira Awas Yojna scam in Kutabal, Budgam and this forced the sarpanch Abdul Ahad Khan to pay back Rs 5.53 lakh into the  Government account.

Nazir gets scholarship for her daughter
Nazir Ahmad Deenda, who belongs to the Scheduled Tribe (ST) Muslim Gujjar community, sought details of scholarships being provided to ST students of his village. The officials of Education Department used to swindle the money but after filing the RTI application in the Zonal Education Officer’s Office, the scholarship was distributed amongst the rightful beneficiaries including the daughter of Nazir in the remote village of Mujapathree.

If poor people like Fayaz, Bashir and Nazir could expose the corrupt and question even the Chief Minister of the state, why can’t Muslims living in various parts of India do the same? I have personally observed that Muslims living in various parts of India hardly know about the RTI. NGOs working for Muslim welfare should take up the RTI awareness work in the community as a mission. The Union Ministry of Minority Affairs must also play its role in creating RTI awareness through various social groups, NGOs, media etc in every part of India so that this deprived community may get justice with dignity which indeed is its constitutional right.

A resident  from Kutabal village of Budgam district  won the CNN-IBN Citizen Journalist award for the year 2012 for his fight against corruption. The 36-year-old Fayaz Ahmad Wani (above in picture), a semi-illiterate man from small hamlet of Kutabal Chadoora  in central Kashmir’s Budgam district used RTI Act to expose a scam in Indira Awas Yojna (IAY).

 An amount of Rs 5.53 lakh was recovered by the Government after RTI expose.  The local media and CNN IBN had highlighted this issue as Fayaz turned a citizen journalist (CJ) to expose the scam.

 While speaking at the function at Taj Palace hotel in New Delhi, Fayaz said it was due to RTI that he was able to expose the corrupt. He said that he would continue to fight for justice of poor people and will use RTI to expose the corrupt. Fayaz wasn’t allowed to enter into the village for three months last summer and his brother’s medical shop was also sealed by the local Sarpanch who had issued a dikat against him and his family.

Noted social activist Anna Hazare, CNN IBN Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai gave away the citizen journalist award to Fayaz Ahmad.

RTI activist and founder of J&K RTI Movement Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat also accompanied Fayaz at the function in New Delhi.

Fayaz said he still receives threats from the criminal elements and appealed the civil society to come to his rescue. Noted Social Activist Anna Hazare, CNN IBN Editor in Chief gave away the citizen journalist award to Fayaz Ahmad.

The author is an RTI activist based in Budgam, Kashmir.