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In a great stride towards transparency under RTI, the government has issued comprehensive guidelines towards information dissemination for which it has set up a task force. The latter says vital elements are still missing
The Department of Personnel Training (DoPT) which had set up a task force for comprehensive implementation of pro-active disclosure under Right to Information (RTI) has issued detailed guidelines through an official memorandum of 15 April 2013, to public authorities for pro-active disclosure of information under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
The objective of this exercise was to put a large amount of information in the public domain to ensure transparency in the functioning of public authorities and reduce the need for filing RTI applications. The memorandum states: “…the quality and quantity of proactive disclosure is not up to a desired level. It was felt that the weak implementation of Section 4 of the RTI Act is partly due to the fact certain provision of the Section are not fully detailed and in case of certain other provisions there is need for laying down detailed guidelines… there is also a need to set up a compliance mechanism.”
The task force which was set up in May 2011 comprised civil society organizations working in the field of Right to Information. Based on the recommendations of the task force, the government has issued guidelines for pro-active disclosure of information under Section 4 of RTI Act.
The recommendations are revolutionary in nature, as they spell out micro details of information that is mandatory to be put up in the public domain. Following is the gist of the recommendations:
The government has also issued detailed guidelines on digital publication of pro-active disclosure under Section 4. The memorandum states that “more and more proactive disclosure would gradually be made through the Internet. There is need for more clear guidelines for web-based publication of information for disclosure.”
The memorandum also states: “The Department of Information Technology has been working on setting of technical standards for government websites and the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances has published guidelines for websites of government departments. These guidelines prescribe the manner in which websites need to be designed and how information should be disclosed… The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2012, under formulation by the Government of India would provide the necessary impetus.”
While this step of releasing detailed guidelines for dissemination of information is commendable, Venkatesh Nayak, one of the members of the task force and programme coordinator of Access to Information Programme, objects to the government concentrating largely on pro-active disclosure through the Internet when most of India is yet not Internet savvy; omitting pre-legislative public consultation and audits by information commissions of public authorities which the task force has recommended. He has urged the government to notify the omitted portions of the task force’s recommendations immediately.
In a letter to Manoj Joshi, joint secretary, Department of Personnel and Training who has issued the memorandum, Nayak states the following:
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)