Who are the FRA beneficiaries in JK? – Jammu Kashmir Latest News | Tourism
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
During a program titled Agenda Aaj Tak last December, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha began his speech by pointing out that the Forest Rights Act (FRA) had been extended to Jammu and Kashmir after the revocation of the 370. He said the tribals and other J&K forest dwellers would benefit from this law. In fact, in September last year, LG Manoj Sinha gave FRA titles (certificates) to many people during two separate functions held in Srinagar and Jammu. The J&K Forestry Department, which is the nodal agency for implementing the FRA at J&K, has not made available on its website details of the people/communities who have been granted rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). I tried hard to get access to it but couldn’t find it on any J&K government website. I finally filed a Right to Information (RTI) request to Raj Bhavan around November last year for this information.
Raj Bhavan’s Public Information Officer (PIO) forwarded my request for RTI to the Civil Secretariat Tribal Affairs Department. The officer was under this notion that the Department of Tribal Affairs was the nodal agency for the implementation of FRA at J&K. This is not the case here, but in other states the same department deals with issues related to forest rights law.
On 2.12.2021, the PIO of the Civil Secretariat of the Department of Tribal Affairs forwarded the RTI request to all Deputy Commissioners and Divisional Forestry Officers (DFOs) and asked them to provide me with the information on individual forest rights claims and communities decided in their respective areas. Only the deputy commissioner’s office in Kishtwar and the forestry division of DFO Pir Panjal in Budgam provided me with the information. The rest of the DCs and MPOs either sent me misleading information or didn’t respond at all. Some DCs then forwarded my RTI applications to their Tehsildars. Ironically, the Tehsildars have nothing to do with the Forest Rights Act. A Tehsildar from Panchari tehsil told me to deposit Rs 100 through an official communication, but he did not mention any account in the letter or the name of the district. It took me several hours to find out where Pancheri tehsil was? Eventually a person told me that Pancheri was a newly established tehsil in Udhampur district.
Tehsildar Gund in Ganderbal empties his letter dated 11.1.2022 stating that no FRA related certificate has been issued to any ST or forest dweller in his area of jurisdiction. DFO Rajouri informed me in his response that the names of FRA recipients and other things are not in form and in consolidated or tabulated form. He asked me to visit Rajouri and inspect the records.
DFO Kulgam sent me an official communication dated January 18, 2022, but the same was sent by express courier on February 3, 2022. It reached my office on February 10, 2022. The office had received the letter from the Department of tribal affairs in december and after more than 2 months the officer asks me for xerox charges. He is not aware of the fact that after the expiry of the 30-day period, no photocopying costs can be claimed. This indicates that the PIOs appointed under the RTI do not even go through the RTI Act 2005 and its rules, nor does the government train them locally in the districts. When I explained this to an official from the DFO office in Kulgam, he sent me a detailed response which reached my office on February 18, 2022.
Supreme Court opinion
The Supreme Court recently issued an opinion to the Government of India in response to a petition filed by social activist KC Jain to effectively implement Section 4 [section 4(2) in particular] of the RTI law. A panel of Judges Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh requested a response from the Center by giving notice to the Government of India.
“There should be suo moto disclosure of all vital information. Section 4(2) embodies this suo moto proactive disclosures mandate,” Jain’s plea states. Relevantly, several reports and orders from the Central Information Commission and various State Information Commissions (SIC) confirm the poor implementation of Article 4. The petitioner also argued that three other related motions are pending before the court.
According to Article 4, each public authority must maintain duly cataloged and indexed registers to facilitate the right to information. This includes scanning all relevant documents and connecting them through a national network to allow access. The section indicates that public authorities will provide the public with information at regular intervals via the Internet and other means of communication.
The Central RTI Act of 2005 has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir since October 31, 2019, but the government has not made it operational here, especially not the voluntary disclosure clause. After the repeal of Section 370, the Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission (SIC) was closed down and the RTI Act 2005 replaced the Jammu and Kashmir RTI Act 2009 . Ironically, the 2005 law does not provide for any state information board in any union territory. . Now that Jammu and Kashmir is reduced to a union territory, it has been bludgeoned with the Central Information Commission. Now, for over a year, our second appeals haven’t even been listed for a hearing. Under the 2009 RTI Act that applied to the state, the State Information Commission was legally required to adjudicate appeals within 60 to 120 days. This provision is not available in the 2005 RTI law.
PIL in High Court
This writer sought judicial intervention and filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir in May 2018. The government of Jammu and Kashmir failed to comply with the voluntary disclosure of information despite repeated reprimands by the former State Information Commission. . On December 24, 2018, the divisional bench of Judges AM Magrey and Sanjeev Kumar High Court ordered the government to adhere to Sections 4 and 23 of the RTI Act 2009. Section 23 legally bound authorities to educate the masses about RTI law. From 2009 to 2018, very few RTI outreach programs were organized in Jammu and Kashmir.
The government has not even trained its designated Public Information Officers (PIOs). This author obtained information under the RTI Act which revealed that very few RTI awareness programs were conducted in Jammu and Kashmir for government officials. The additional Advocate General appearing had assured the court that Jammu and Kashmir would have no difficulty in complying with the said provision of the RTI Act.
In an earlier order dated April 3, 2018, the Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Ramalingam Sudhakar and Justice MK Hanjura ordered the General Administration Department of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to request all offices government to comply with section 4 of the now repealed 2009 law. Act. Even after the final orders were issued on December 24, 2018, proactive section 4 disclosures did not begin.
I thank the government for digitizing all files under the e-office program. Almost all civil secretariat files are now in digital format. I am unable to understand why people’s RTI applications are still being thrown around from office to office when the information can easily be provided by email to applicants. From Raj Bhavan to the Tribal Affairs Department and then to the DC and DFO offices my RTI request was sent to 20 DC offices and 25 DFO offices to J&K and even after almost 70 days only two offices got me provided the information.
If Kishtwar DC office or DFO Budgam had FRA related information with them and they also sent it to me, why don’t the other DCs and DFO have this in their office? Why does DC pass RTI applications to Tehsildars, will they produce FRA-related information by some magical or supernatural act? Let the government release the details of who benefited from the Forest Rights Act at J&K…
(The author is chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement)