Right to Information activism taking shape in the valley

Mohammad Akbar Bhat, president of Village Welfare Committee, Gund-e-Ibrahim village, popularly known as RTI man (activist). He has filed several RTI applications and helped people to file RTIs too. He seeks information from different departments and disseminated for public awareness, voluntarily.
He has consistently raised the issue of manipulation of food grain in PDS shops. As per the government rule BPL families are entitled to get 45 kgs of Rice/wheat, but they get less than the ascribed quantity. Mr. Bhat field an application to know the exact allocation from the concern department. In response to an application filed by Mr. Akbar, an order passed by the State Information Commission, Jammu and Kashmir to the concern department. In this regard Mr. Bashir Ahmad Khan, Public Information Officer/Joint Director, Consumer Affair and Public Distribution Department (CA&PD), Kashmir appeared in person for clarification and providing the correct information with regard to scale of distribution of ration for November 2011 under BPL category.

Mr. Bhat says “Before 2007, I had no idea about rights and entitlements and RTI was like French to me. It was IGSSS’s field team who sensitised me through trainings and other people in the village on the use of RTI. This is our right to know, so I teach people the same,”

Md. Akbar who hails from poor family Gund-e-Ibrahim is a VWC President and an ardent RTI activist. Besides, filing RTIs, he is involved in farming and embroidery work. Mr. Bhat has six children, three daughters and three sons. All of them are studying. Being a devoted Muslim, he thinks that helping others is obligatory for him. Mr. Bhat was never known for his embroidery and farming acumen but he is acknowledged as an RTI activist in Gund-e-Ibrahim. His focus is on raising awareness and using RTI as a tool in rural Kashmir.

Prior to IGSSS’s intervention in Gund-e-Ibrahim people were busy in communal clashes (Shia’s and Sunni’s) and people were unaware how to eliminate bitterness between the two communities. Today the scenario is different. The differences have minimised as people are giving importance to the community development. “This is the real meaning of education I believe. Since we came to know about our rights and entitlement we tend to solve various problems mutually. I want to become a leader and I have no personal interest in filing RTIs. I am doing it for the humanity and with a mission,” said Mr. Bhat.

Until now Mr. Bhat has filed 25 RTI applications but none of the applications are for his personal purpose. He is working extensively for his community. According to Mr Bhat, Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are not working according to the aspirations of the people. In such a case, someone has to fill the gap and that is why he has to come to the fore as a VWC president.
“I am sure people aren’t happy with PRIs and Block Development Office encouraged corruption in the area. One has to grease the palm of an officer then any action could be expected. Corruption is rampant in almost all departments,” said Mr. Bhat ruefully.

As a VWC President he is taking lead in filing RTIs against various departments. Currently he has filed an RTI application against Public Health Engineering (PHE) Pattan. “I have filed an RTI application against PHE and I have asked them to issue a generator so that we can have ample drinking water in the area. This generator will be useful for three adjacent areas,” said Mr. Bhat
On 1st October, 2011, Bhat filed RTI an application against PHE and sought information regarding water pipelines. In response to his request, he was sanctioned 4,000 feet water pipe for the village. The work on 4,000 feet water pipelines was started on 4th October in the village immediate after the RTI application.

In the month of November, 2011, Mohd Akbar filed another RTI and sought information regarding the number of agreements (along names of below poverty line (BPL) and above poverty Line) carried by Power Development Department (PDD) with the consumers.
Mr. Bhat has given sleepless night to Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) authorities. Once again he armoured himself with an RTI tool. He filed RTI application against SRO case and sought death certificate of a patient. His courageous act has unnerved authorities at SKIMS. “I received two phone calls by Tehsildar in this regard but I am still analyzing the situation. I am not unnecessarily annoying authorities but I believe I have to come to rescue innocent people,” said Mr. Bhat with moist eyes.

Mr. Bhat has taken up many more such issues at the government official level. Looking out of window, Mr. Bhat dreams of a better tomorrow free of callousness and distortion.

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