In January this year, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs sent me details of the funds claimed by the Government of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) from the security-related expenditure (SRE) scheme launched by the Government of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in J&K. Now the Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Poonch district has sent me the list of beneficiaries under the SRE scheme for the last three years.
After obtaining the documents submitted by the J&K Government to the MHA for claiming reimbursement under SRE scheme, we wrote to the Governor, J&K requesting that the manner of spending of SRE funds and the names of beneficiaries be made public because the media coverage of the RTI intervention had made it look like Kashmiri Pandits were the main beneficiaries of this scheme. The RTI data did not reveal the identity of the beneficiaries, except to say that some of them were Kashmiri migrants.
The Governor’s office acted quickly and issued directions to a range of public authorities in the State including Deputy Commissioners, Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioners and the Police Department to make the information about the beneficiaries of the scheme public. Later the Police Department sent me a list of police personnel who were beneficiaries of SRE.
As none of the other Departments and offices involved in the disbursement of SRE Funds responded to me, I filed a complaint under Section 15 of the J&K RTI Act with the J&K State Information Commission (J&KSIC) demanding that directions be issued to all the Respondents to proactively disclose the beneficiary-related information.
In my complaint I have argued how a non-resident of J&K can also move the J&KSIC for directing greater transparency from public authorities even though he/she will not get any information under that Act if one makes a formal request (obviously I am not a resident of J&K). That complaint filed in June 2015 is pending before the J&KSIC.
Sixty days have lapsed since the delivery of my complaint to the J&KSIC. A second appeal must be decided by the J&KSIC within 60 days ordinarily. I hope the Commission will decide the complaint within 120 days at least (upper limit for deciding 2nd appeals) although the J&K RTI Act does not prescribe a time limit for deciding complaints submitted under Section 15.
Meanwhile, the same MHA has refused to divulge details of SRE spending in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and the seven States of the North East claiming the national security exemption under Section 8(1)(a) of the Central RTI Act.
DC Poonch’s Response
Even as I wait for the J&KSIC to decide on my complaint, earlier last month I received an email from the office of the Deputy Commissioner Poonch district with an attachment containing a list of beneficiaries under the SRE scheme during the last three years. The DC’s Office has also uploaded this information on its website at this link: http://poonch.gov.in/noticeboard/sre.pdf.
I think this is a very proactive step taken by the DC’s office to bring in more transparency in the manner of spending SRE funds. A quick look at the names of beneficiaries shows that during the last three years no Kashmiri Pandit received any benefit under MHA’s SRE scheme, at least in Poonch. Now RTI activists and concerned citizens in J&K should insist that other public authorities also disclose information about beneficiaries of not only the SRE scheme but also other developmental programmes and subsidy schemes implemented in J&K in a proactive manner.
The purpose of sharing my complaint to the J&KSIC is to encourage readers to file similar complaints with the J&KSIC for directions to the public authorities to make disclosures about SRE schemes voluntarily. This way, even if my complaint fails because of my status as a non-resident of J&K complaints of other residents of J&K are not likely to be dismissed easily.
*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi