The Maharashtra State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) has directed all public authorities in Maharashtra to upload complete information of all welfare schemes on their respective websites before 30 April 2017. Those public authorities which do not have any public welfare schemes should categorically mention so on their websites, the SCIC has stated.
In a hard-hitting directive to the chief secretary to ensure compliance with this order, SCIC Ratnakar Gaikwad has provided a detailed format in which information should be made public on the websites by every government department. Details to be included are: name of the scheme, its salient features, especially budget provisions, number of beneficiaries likely to be covered, eligibility criteria, format of application for the scheme, date of receipt of application, date of approval, and date of rejection with brief reasons for rejection.
Public welfare schemes otherwise largely remain a secret and there have been alleged cases of large-scale irregularities and financial misappropriation. Besides, there are many welfare schemes of various government and municipal bodies but, often, intended beneficiaries are not aware of these schemes, their eligibility criteria or how to avail of them.
It is thanks to former Central Information Commissioner and leading Right to Information (RTI) activist Shailesh Gandhi that people will now have access to this vital information, at the click of the mouse. Mr Gandhi was impressed with Haqdarshak Empowerment Services, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which has been accessing such information under RTI and presenting it in an easy-to-understand format for the benefit of beneficiaries of such schemes.
On 25 March 217, Mr Gandhi made a complaint to the SCIC, under Section 18 (1) (f) of the RTI Act, pointing out that there are many welfare schemes of various government and municipal bodies of which there is not enough public awareness. He appealed that “the (SCIC) Commission may consider issuing a directive to all government and institutions of local self-governance to give details of their welfare schemes in detailed format. It would also be very useful if the status of application is made available in the format indicated.”
SCIC Gaikwad immediately took cognisance of Mr Gandhi’s complaint. In his order, Mr Gaikwad states “…the Commission views this lapse on the part of the public authorities with serious concern. It is sad that after a lapse of more than 11 years since RTI Act has come to force, public authorities by and large have shown a lackadaisical attitude towards proactive disclosures as laid down under Section 4 of the Act.”
Mr Gaikwad invoked the following sub-sections of Section 4 of the RTI Act in support of his directive:
“Section 4 (1) (b) of Right to Information Act, 2005 is the heart and soul of the RTI Act, which makes it mandatory to all public authorities to disclose information about 17 aspects of public authorities which, inter alia, covers schemes implemented by public authorities, and list of beneficiaries to be displayed on the websites of respective public authority.
“So also Section 4(1)(c)(d) mandates that all decisions, Administrative/Quasi-Judicial, taken by public authorities, and material/facts based on which such decisions are taken, must be suo motu be communicated to the affected persons forthwith by public authorities. All welfare schemes implemented by the government are obviously covered under the above provisions of the RTI Act. But, unfortunately, no department yet has implemented in letter and spirit above provisions, with the result there is hardly any transparency and accountability in the implementation of various welfare schemes implemented by the government.”
Commenting on the SCIC’s directions, Mr Gandhi says, “The Maharashtra Chief Information Commissioner, Mr Gaikwad, has issued a landmark order, which should benefit intended beneficiaries of government welfare schemes. Showing great promptness and sensitivity to the public cause, empathy to the disadvantaged and understanding of the law, Mr Gaikwad issued an appropriate order immediately directing all departments to display the information in the suggested format. This could help to reduce corruption in these schemes.”
Mr Gandhi has appealed to NGOs and others working on these matters to monitor if this order is complied with and, in case of non-compliance, file a complaint under Section 18 with the State Information Commission.
Here is the copy of the order issued and format suggested for public authorities to disclose information on welfare schemes by the Maharashtra SCIC:
(Vinita Deshmukh is 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”.