Sunday, May 26, 2019

18℃ sky is clear
By Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
3, December 2018 7:52 PM

Constitution has given several rights to citizens. It is the citizen for whose benefit Governments are supposed to work. Citizens pay taxes which are utilized for welfare of state. It is the taxpayers money which is used for construction of schools, hospitals and roads. The tax-payers money is also used to pay salaries of Government employees right from President of India to a peon. That is the reason Government officials are no more called Government servants but they are known as “Public Servants”. From the last nearly 13 years I have been filing applications under Right to Information Act (RTI) in different Government offices. I have a very bad experience when it comes to official response received from Government offices especially organizations under J&K Government.

The official RTI response from majority of Government offices that I have gone through are never addressed with proper salutations to the citizens. It simply indicates the colonial mindset of Government officials who don’t want to address Aam Aadmi with sir , dear sir or madam 

As an organization Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement has drafted more than 4000 RTI applications under both State and Central RTI laws. I can say with an authority that not even in 30 percent cases official replies have been addressed with salutations 

On the other hand each and every RTI application filed by information seekers are addressed with salutations like Sir or Madam and all these applications end with yours sincerely or yours faithfully. In past I have taken up this issue with Government. I believe Government officials are not ready to change their mindset and that is the reason I am forced to write this piece so as to shake the conscience of our bureaucrats and Government officers. The words like public servants , public service etc have only been confined to the books of constitution and law as citizens have a very experience with Government officials.


Citizens deserve respect


The official communication between citizens and Government officials was not so huge before enactment of Right to Information Act (RTI). It drastically increased when RTI Act 2005 was promulgated by Congress lead UPA -II Government in 2005. People started seeking information from Govt offices / public authorities and designated Public Information Officers (PIO)s) started addressing the citizens through official communication. In J&K state, the exchange of letters in response to RTI queries between citizens and Govt offices began way back in 2004 when J&K RTI Act 2004 was enacted by PDP-Congress Govt. After the enactment of a robust RTI law in 2009 (J&K RTI Act 2009) , the official letters being sent to RTI applicants by Govt offices has increased manifold. 14 years have passed since we got familiar with RTI law in J&K, but the PIOs continue to play hide and seek with information seekers. The worst part of this official high-handedness is that in most of the cases the Government Officers / PIO’s hardly keep a covering letter attached with the Information sent to an RTI applicant. Even if the cover letter is attached with a bundle of documents, that same in most of the cases is not addressed with salutations. The letter neither addresses the information seeker with sir or madam nor it ends with yours sincerely, yours truly or at least with words like ” with kind regards or with warm regards” . It depicts very cheap mentality of the Government officers addressing citizens.


Model Official letter


As per the prescribed norms of by various State Governments as well as Government of India (Ministry of Personnel & Institute of Secretariat Training ) an official Government letter addressed to Government officials or citizens has following parts :
a) Letter Head : This bears the name of the Government of the State and that of the Department and Branch in case of the Secretariat. In other cases the name of the office.
b) File number and date of communication
c) Name /organization of Sender
d) Name /designation of the addressee.
e) Subject and Reference : The subject will be written in clear terms and will be brief. It will indicate generally the contents of the letter.
f) Salutation : If addressing to official authorities, one must begin with the salutation Sir, and those addressed to nonofficial individual (citizen) or groups of individuals with Dear Sir / Sirs.
Those addressed to firms will begin with the salutation Dear Sirs. Official Government letter must end with the subscription ” Yours faithfully ” followed by the signature and designation of the person signing the letter.


Conclusion


It is clear from the aforementioned guidelines is that Government officer if addressing a letter to a common citizen must begin with the letter with proper”Salutations” like ” Dear Sir” or Madam and end with subscription ” Yours faithfully ” or “Yours Sincerely”. Are our Government officers aware of all these official guidelines ? I think they are not and even if they are aware , the officers feel it challenges their authority , dignity and so called “self respect” . Many officers feel it is below their dignity to addressing a common man, a villager an illiterate lady with Dear Sir / Madam or concluding the letter with yours faithfully. Most of this official highhandedness is seen in the Department of Rural Development. A Block Development Officer (BDOs) is not ready to call an information seeker from some village sir or a madam through an official communication ? Many Government officials of our state have a superiority complex of being part of an elite service and they treat people like 2nd class citizens. But this is not common among officials working with central Government organizations.
The official communication or RTI response I saw from last few years from the office of Prime Minister (PMO) or Ministry of Finance or other Ministries was addressed to citizens with dear sir or dear madam and endedup with yours sincerely etc .In case of Jammu & Kashmir my experience has been the worst especially in remote districts of Doda , Kishtwar , Kupwara , Rajouri etc where not even cover letter is kept attached with the information sought under RTI. Govt officers who call themselves public servants are not mentally ready to be servants of public and to give due respect to the citizens of state. I appeal Governor and Chief Secretary to issue an official circular so that Government officials are directed to address official communication to citizens with due respect and honour. After all the citizens are citizens they can’t be treated like suspects!