Maharashtra Chief Information Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad has urged public authorities to comprehensively abide by Section 4 of the RTI Act which makes it mandatory for them to put most of the information in the public domain
Seven years down the line, one of the setbacks of the RTI (Right to Information) Act is the failure/unwillingness of public authorities to abide by Section 4 which makes it mandatory for them to upload most of their functions and activities on the website. If such information is put in public domain, a citizen will hardly be required to file a RTI application. He would get the information at the click of the mouse.
At the one-day workshop held in YASHADA in Pune last week on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of RTI Act, Maharashtra Chief Information Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad stated in no uncertain terms that, “charity must begin at home. The mandate has been given to us to implement pro-active disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act and all public authorities must be committed to it.”
He lamented that many public authorities are still not aware of the intricacies of Section 4 (a) and (b) and urged civil society groups to perform social audits regularly. Mr Gaikwad states that, “There are 81,000 Public Information Officers (PIOs) and 23,000 First Appellate Authorities in Maharashtra. How do we know whether the public authority is doing his duty or not? Civic groups should audit and report the quality of pro-active disclosures by dividing them into A/B/C and D categories and send the reports to the CIC. I assure immediate action.”
Mr Gaikwad, in his role as the SCIC, has directed heads of all public authorities to pro-actively be involved in suo motu disclosure of information on their respective websites. He stated, “I have issued directions under Section 19 (8) to collectors, commissioners, CEOs, heads of departments and director of health sciences that it is not enough for heads of public authorities to ensure that PIOs are merely functioning. They must monitor whether pro-active disclosures under Section 4 are being uploaded in the public domain on a regular basis. Some of them shrewdly appoint low-rung officers as PIOs and AAs. There are a few though who do show a lot of sense of responsibility. In Mumbai for example, ward offices do not feel that RTI is their responsibility. Hence, I have recently written to the chief secretary and municipal commissioner of Mumbai to find out where RTI is properly implemented and where it is not. I am awaiting the report.”
Mr Gaikwad urged citizens to use the RTI to improve governance and not to ask details which would waste the time of the PIOs. Giving an example he stated, “Some citizens have been asking frivolous queries like what is the menu served for lunch for officers with details like how many vegetables were used for it and so on. We must realise that PIOs have to do other works too. Hence, citizens must focus on vital information which will bring in transparency and accountability. Sincerity in seeking information is of utmost importance.”
Praising social activist Anjali Damania, Mr Gaikwad stated that, “I was impressed with the way Anjali Damania pursued seeking information regarding the irrigation scam. After she applied under RTI, she was not disclosed the information she required. When she approached me I asked the secretary, irrigation, to provide her with complete information. She has gone on record to say that CIC helped her immensely. Another RTI activist had pursued the same information and was given the needful within a week. However, he insisted that it should be given in a particular format. Now, this would have taken a lot of time. There was a stark contrast in approach of the two RTI applicants. It is not always possible for PIOs to supply information in the format that the citizens ask for hence the former should be considerate. Also, our democracy will be strengthened if citizens use the information they have sought by pursuing it and taking it to the logical end.”
Putting the onus on the PIOs and FAAs to perform their duties as mandated by the RTI Act, he stated that, “those who are providing information and taking decisions should be accountable. Everybody in the government is a public servant and RTI is a good instrument to remind those serving in the government and change their mindset. Every government servant must remember that today he is questioned by the citizen who may be a Below Poverty Line (BPL) or illiterate but has the right to know and has the right to access information.”
Lamenting that many officers are averse to disclosure of file notings, Mr Gaikwad stressed that, “officers should have the moral courage to disclose whatever they are writing on the files. Whosoever is highly placed in the bureaucracy and is taking decisions should do so with a full sense of responsibility.”
In conclusion, Mr Gaikwad stated that, “the main challenge before Maharashtra is capacity building. For the Act to become a strong weapon in the hands of the citizens to strengthen democracy, the civil society, public authorities and Information Commissioners should work together. We are in the seventh year and we should not be discussing (Section 4). There has to be a culture of transparency.”
Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), Centre for Good Governance (CGG), Hyderabad and YASHADA have worked together to develop an audit tool to help citizens/public authorities, Information Commissioners and NGOs to assess whether a particular public authority is comprehensively executing the pro-active disclosures under Section 4. YASHADA has conducted an audit of more than 400 offices using this tool. The assessment is measured by putting the government office (which is audited) into A, B, C or D category depending on its pro-active disclosures in the public domain. All those who are interested in the tool-kit may write to Dr Pralhad Kachare, director of the RTI Cell of YASHADA at [email protected].
What must a government office disclose under Section 4?
Under Section 4(1) (b), every public authority is mandated to publish the following categories of information within 120 days from the enactment of the Act:
1. Particulars of the public authority
2. Powers & duties of officers & employees
3. Procedure followed in decision making
4. Norms for discharge of functions
5. Rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records under its control/used by employees while discharging functions
6. Categories of documents held by the authority or which are under its control
7. Arrangement for consultation with or representation by the members of the public in relation to the formulation of policy or implementation thereof
8. Boards, councils, committees and other bodies constituted as part of the public
9. Directory of officers and employees
10. Monthly remuneration received by officers & employees including system of compensation
11. Budget allocated to each agency including all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made etc.
12. Manner of execution of subsidy programmes
13. Particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorisation granted by the public authority
14. Information available in electronic form
15. Particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information
16. Names, designations and other particulars of public information officers
(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. She can be reached at [email protected].)