NEW DELHI: Prospects of peace in Jammu and Kashmir are “very bright” for all relevant players have realised that a settlement of the long outstanding issue would be beneficial to everyone, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, who is waiting to be relieved of his job to take up position as the Information Commissioner for Jammu and Kashmir, said here on Saturday.
Speaking informally to a group of journalists at the Indian Women’s Press Corps, Mr. Habibullah said it was important that any settlement should, first of all, satisfy the people of Jammu and Kashmir who have to face the consequences.
He did not think that specific incidents, however tragic — such as Friday’s assassination attempt on All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Fazal Haq Qureshi — would be an impediment to the direct dialogue that the government opened with all shades of opinion in the Valley. The State had gone through a lot over the last few decades and “such things have happened before,” he said.
Mr. Habibullah was looking forward to his new assignment — he had put in his resignation papers as the Chief Information Commissioner and was waiting to be relieved — as this would give him an opportunity to do something for Jammu and Kashmiris by helping set up an information system that people would be able to access. It would be a new job for him for as the Chief Information Commissioner he was dealing with only central government offices throughout the country, but as the State’s Information Commissioner, he would be setting up an information system going right down to the district and panchayat level.
His firm belief was that without information freedom and democracy remained incomplete, and he was hoping that with this new tool in their hands given by the State’s Right to Information Act — which was in some ways stronger than the Central Act — the people would feel empowered. While he was happy that the State Act stipulated information must be given within two months, he would like to see an amendment that would extend the Act to those people who belonged to the State but may be living outside its boundaries.
Human rights issue
If information was sought on human rights issues in Jammu and Kashmir that involved the conduct of security forces, naturally, that information would have to be sought from the Home Ministry or the Defence Ministry. He did not think that would be a problem unless the government wanted to withhold some information on the ground that it concerned security operations.
On recent reports that the Centre was about to amend the Right to Information Act, he was told that the government had no intention of diluting that Act or withholding information. “I think it is a bit too early to think of amending the comparatively new law. Over the years it would become more apparent what needs to be changed and how this should be done. So far, I have not seen any major lacuna.”
In any case, with an entirely new law, the “limitation” of the law was yet to be tested and over the years the Commissioners would give their decisions, which may be challenged in courts, before a final outcome is known. The point of law would have to be decided by the courts.
Finally, he said there was no “confrontation” between the Information Commissioner’s office and the judiciary, and he was not being “soft” on the judiciary. Under the Constitution it was the Supreme Court that would finally interpret any law that is enacted.