Last week, Moneylife carried an article
on how the Chief Justice of India, hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, has directed all state information commissioners (SICs) and central information commissioners (CICs) to be proactive in ensuring that public authorities abide by section 4 disclosures as mandated under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The chief justice pulled up the information commissioners across the country, urging them to wake up from their slumber and go beyond just mechanically hearing second appeals or complaints.
The following facts will reveal how the department of personnel training (DoPT) has been sending reminders to the CICs and SICs for the past 12 years:
1. 6 May 2011: The DoPT constituted a task force to improve the quality and quantity of disclosures under section 4.
2. 15 April 2013: As a sequel to the task force report, the DoPT issued the following guidelines to public authorities to put in place a mechanism for compliance and monitoring
“(a) Comply with the guidelines and send an action taken report to the CIC;
(b) Get the proactive disclosure package [Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI, Act] audited by a third-party audit every year.
This should be communicated to the CIC annually through publication on their own websites. This requirement to publish the needful information on the website of each public authority would fully take care of the grievances of the petitioner;
DoPT also directed the CICs to:
• Examine the third-party audit reports for each ministry/ public authority and offer advice/ recommendations to the concerned ministry/ public authority;
• The CIC should carry out sample audits for a few of the ministries/ public authorities each year for which - (e) An officer, not below the rank of a joint secretary, should be appointed as the nodal officer in the central ministry/ public authority to ensure compliance with the proactive disclosure guidelines, and
• Every ministry/ department to include a chapter on the RTI Act in its annual report submitted to the Parliament, mandatorily containing the details about compliance with proactive disclosure guidelines.”
• DoPT also directed every ministry/ public authority to ensure that these guidelines are implemented within six months
• The above timeline was given as public authorities required collating a large quantum of information and digitising it. For this, consultants could be hired to expedite this work
• Each ministry/ public authority should get its proactive disclosure package audited by a third party every year and disclose the names of the third-party auditors on their respective websites
2015: Subsequently, two more committees were set up – one headed by former CIC A N Tiwari: He recommended “making online access to information more user-friendly and (b) setting up of a grievance redressal system.”
2016: The second committee headed by former joint secretary Devesh Chaturvedi suggested a redressal mechanism, amongst others.
The recommendations of both experts were accepted - they included:
(a) Setting up of consultative committees by public authority for
systematic and regular interaction with its officials and to advise public authorities on information that can be uploaded suo motu,
(b) Setting up of information and facilitation centres to educate citizens about information available,
(c) Providing a searchable and retrievable database of information on the website of the public authorities; and importantly
(d) To undertake transparency audits by training institutes under the ministry/ department/ public authority.
2019/2020: The DoPT allowed public authorities to give the transparency audits conducted by any government training institutes, i.e., in cases where there is no institute existing in the ministry/ department/ public authority.
The result? Out of a total of 2278 public authorities, 2173 of them i.e., 95% of public authorities have submitted all four quarterly returns to the commission in the reporting year i.e., 2021-22 (annual report 2021-22 of the CIC).
However, the petitioner in his written submission, stated and the SC observed that “Only 33% of the public authorities have got transparency audits conducted in the last four years. It is stated that the poor implementation of third-party audit is adversely commented upon even by the DoPT.”
CJI Chandrachud observed that from the information made available to us, one thing is evident. The system needs the concerned authority’s complete attention, followed by strict and continuous monitoring. It is in this context that the functioning and duties of the central and state information commissions assume utmost importance.
“It is necessary to take note of the statutorily incorporated ‘monitoring and reporting’ mechanism in section 25 of the Act. This is an important feature of ‘accountability’ of statutory authorities.”
Now, it is mandatory for “the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions to ensure proper implementation of the mandate of section 4 of the Act, by following the directions as indicated above.”
Will this propel the information commissions to wake up? Let’s wait and watch.
is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the 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".)