Conducting a survey on official handling of queries under the Right to Information act may sound simple.
Having tried to do it, I can say it is a nightmare. One can be made to run around in circles for three or four days just to get a one-and-a-half page questionnaire filled.
Could it possibly be that our public servants are afraid to commit themselves on what they have or have not done regarding citizens’ right to information?
When I, along with two volunteers, went to the director of health services, Kashmir, a few days back, he carefully read the questionnaire and forwarded it to his PA. The PA forwarded it to the Section officer, and then told me to come to collect it the next day.
When I returned next day, the section officer said he was busy and very coolly told me to come the next day. When I went, he made me wait for hours and still the questionnaire had not been filled. When we went to the Mayor of Srinagar Municipality, he handed the questionnaire to his Private Secretary – who in turn marked it to the Assistant Secretary. It took me two days to get the questionnaire from the Assistant secretary, and still it was incomplete.
Then the Assistant secretary told me to contact the Joint Muncipal Commissioner. The peon did not allow us to go into his office chambers.
We were told to meet his PA instead. His PA called the PA of the assistant secretary and told him to forward it to the Joint Commissioner in a proper way. So once again we returned empty-handed. Filling the questionnaire takes hardly five minutes but this doesn’t happen. This is Kashmir!
This story doesn’t end here. The Deputy Director, Social Welfare said there is no RTI in J&K. I asked him if he had attended any training on RTI. He replied that he had, at IMPA (a government training agency). I told him that in spite of being trained on the RTI, why did he not know that J&K has an RTI Act 2004 in force.
This conversation took place in the director’s chamber, and the director clarified it to his deputy that J&K state has its own Right to Information Act. The director, who was until recently the special secretary, power at civil secretariat, told us that he had replied to one RTI application while he was the designated officer in charge there under the J&K RTI Act. Still we had to wait for two days to get our questionnaire filled. All these hurdles won’t deflect us from achieving our goal. We will go ahead.
"Iraadey jinn key pukhtaa ho, nazar jinn ke Khudaa par ho,
talatum khaiz mojoun sey woh gabhrayaa nahee kartey".
Those who have strong will power aren’t afraid of high tides.