Over 85% of Public Authorities Fight Shy of Disclosing Info under Section 4 of The RTI Act: Report
In a report submitted to the Central Information Commission (CIC) in the first week of November, it has been found that over 85% of the public authorities (PAs) have been reluctant to ensure mandatory disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act, which includes crucial information that needs to be suo motu transparent like “budget and programme, publicity and public interface and E-governance.’’
 
The study which the CIC outsourced to AN Tiwari & MM Ansari pertained to `Transparency Audit of Disclosures u/s 4 of the Right to Information Act by the public authorities.’  
 
As per this study, out of the 838 public authorities that were studied in this report, for different grades of transparency, 158 of them, that is 19%,  fell in the 90 to100% transparency category;  157 of them, that is 19%, into the  80% to 89 % category,  118  of them, that is 14%,  in the 70% to 79 %  and 113 of them, that is 13% of them, that is 60%, to 69 % category and 292 of them, that is, 60% into the  35%  category. The objective of this exercise was to make a thorough assessment of voluntary disclosures and to indicate the areas and directions for increasing transparency in PAs. This included taking stock of, and assessing quantitative and qualitative compliance by PAs of the mandated suo motu disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act; identifying areas for improvement in information disclosure by PAs; and, suggesting measures for improving the content and quality of the disclosures.
 
The revelation in this report is shocking as practically all information that PAs have to voluntarily disclose under Section 4 is missing, as this includes:
 
  • Decision-making process;
  • The delegation of powers, duties, and responsibilities of officials and the system of compensation paid to them;
  • Information relating to consultation with public on the proposed major policy decisions;
  • Minutes of meetings of various committees and boards;
  • Details of the relevant Acts, rules, instruments, manuals, office orders, custodians of various categories of documents held by the organization;
  • Policy on transfer and posting of senior officers deployed at important and sensitive places;
  • RTI applications and appeals received and their responses;
  • Details of public information officers, appellate authority, nodal officer and other facilities available to citizens for obtaining information;
  • Details of domestic and foreign visits undertaken by the senior officials;
  • Details of the mechanism to redress grievances of affected persons, mainly employees, clients, and customers;
  • Discretionary and non-discretionary grants and details of the beneficiaries of subsidy;
  • Criteria/ guidelines for allocation and utilization of corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds by the public sector enterprises;
  • Sources and methods of funding political parties or identification of donors; and
  • Details about public-private partnerships and outcomes of such ventures.
 
As for the recommendations, the report states that:
 
  • A full-fledged transparency audit of all public authorities only can determine their transparency preparedness but since the audit of that scale and content needs huge preparation and is a formidable task, the first step should be evaluation of the websites of the public authorities to determine their compliance with the mandated provisions of section 4 of the Right to Information;

 

  • Comprehensive information disclosures on websites of PAs, which are carefully designed and regularly updated, will, doubtless, make a significant difference in terms of the public authority—public interface

 

  • Regularity of website audit—the audit of public authorities’ websites should not be sporadic but regular. CIC will need to play a key role in ensuring this. These audits should become a firm basis for progressive and incremental changes in the design and the content of the websites indicating the public authority’s seriousness about mandatory disclosures

 

  •  CIC and Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) may consider setting up a web-based mechanism to: (a) note all updated dates of the websites, (b) send out advance reminders to Pas’ website managers, or nodal officers, regarding the approaching update the dates, and (c) pursue defaulting PAs to effect updates and demand compliance from their nodal officers

 

  • CIC/DoPT may consider setting up a separate dedicated unit for website monitoring and auditing

 

  • Caution should be exercised to ensure that website audits are done only under the supervision of a central authority such as the CIC and not by any organisation which wants two minutes of fame under the RTI sun

 

  • The website audit should be done through a predetermined methodology approved by the central authority such as the CIC either directly or through a peer group created for this purpose

 

  •  In order to ensure that the audits are not slipshod or non-serious, the choice of auditors must be made carefully by the central authority/CIC

 

  • The services of the nodal officers can be usefully requisitioned for monitoring the websites and keeping them updated
 
A scheme of incentives should be put in place to encourage PAs to take interest in the design and the content of the websites. The nodal officers should be similarly incentivised for exceptional work and dedication.
 
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COMMENTS

Miggi V

2 weeks ago

Prof Sridhar Acharyulu & RTI have are doing brilliant service for common people of India. Shame on government for misusing its power for putting down rightful work of such people. They are real life heros and deserve honour and not litigation. It is right of citizens to known qualifications of their leaders

Harish

3 weeks ago

Public Authorities are making a mockery of the RTI Act.

REPLY

Miggi V

In Reply to Harish 2 weeks ago

agree

RTI Activists Laud Outgoing Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu for Protecting the Transparency Law
Right to Information (RTI) activists have expressed support and admiration for the strong, pro-people stand of Prof Dr Sridhar Acharayalu, who retired as Central Information Commissioner on 20 November 2018. Prof Acharayalu made waves by issuing a show cause notices to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) just a few days before his retirement. 
 
The Central Information Commission (CIC) had issued a show-cause notice to RBI governor Dr Urjit Patel for dishonouring a directive from the Supreme Court to disclose list of wilful defaulters. The Supreme Court had upheld the decision of a Judgement passed by the then Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi who had also called for the names of the wilful defaulters. Prof Acharyulu observed how there is stark difference between what the RBI governor and deputy governor says and what is displayed on their website regarding the RTI Act.
 
The show cause notice however did not go down well within the CIC and Prof Acharyulu was apparently pulled up for it. Prof Acharayalu has written a strongly worded letter to the Chief Information Commissioner in this regard, which has been made public. 
 
 
His stand has found support from leading activists such as Mr Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner. Mr Gandhi, in an email to Prof Acharayalu thanked him for upholding the RTI Act and how over the past five years, he has tried to consciously to expand the domain of transparency as defined in the law while many others have been doing the opposite. 
 
Mr Gandhi says, "You have rightly picked on the issue of RBI non-compliance of CIC decisions given by me, and the Supreme Court order. Perhaps if these orders had been implemented some of the rot in the banking sector may have been stemmed. The CIC was not concerned about this but only concerned with allowing RBI to run its empire in a manner it wished."
 
"I had brought up the matter of non-recognition of non-performing assets (NPAs) by labeling them corporate debt restructure (CDR) through a khap panchayat named corporate debt restructuring in 2015. The CIC sided with their plea that they need not follow the RTI Act. I then brought up the issue of non-compliance of the commission's and Supreme Court's order by RBI before the Commission in another case, and the CIC again frustrated this without any reference to the RTI Act. When you dealt with the issue of RBI being in contempt of CIC orders which had been confirmed by the Supreme Court, the commission should have lauded it.
 
Alas, it appears to have taken the view that the commission must not be embarrassed and it should speak with one voice like a labour union," Mr Gandhi added.
 
Expressing his disappointment, Mr Gandhi says how the letter written by Prof Acharyulu to Chief Information Commissioner RK Mathur was evidence to the fact that the commissioners do not show any bias towards or adherence of the RTI Act. “This is primarily because of the selection process not being transparent and also because of not understanding the prospective applicants’ take on transparency, accountability or the RTI Act itself,” he says.  
 
In conclusion, Mr Gandhi shared an excerpt from his judgement, “Thus RBI argued that it did not wish to share the information sought as some of it could ‘adversely affect the public interest and compromise financial sector stability’. RBI was unwilling to share information, which might bring out the ‘weaknesses in the financial institutions, systems and management of the inspected entities’. It was further contended that ‘disclosure can erode public confidence not only in the inspected entity but in the banking sector as well. This could trigger a ripple effect on the deposits of not only one bank to which the information pertains but others as well due to contagion effect’. It appears that the RBI argued that citizens were not mature enough to understand the implications of weaknesses, and RBI was the best judge to decide what citizens should know.
 
Citizens, who are considered mature enough to decide on who should govern them, who give legitimacy to the government, and framed the Constitution of India must be given selective information about weaknesses exposed in inspection, to ensure that they have faith in the banking sector. They must see the financial and banking sector only to the extent which RBI wishes. If the RBI made mistakes, or there was corruption, citizens would suffer. This appears to go against the basic tenets of democracy and transparency.”
 
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10 Indians die every day in 6 Gulf countries
As per the data tabled in the Parliament this April, around 88 lakh (87.76 lakh to be precise) Indians work in the six Gulf countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE); but, for every $1 billion they remitted back home to India in the six months of 2018, there were at least 117 deaths. This works out to 10 deaths per day.
 
Venkatesh Nayak, research scholar and programme coordinator of Commonwealth Human Right Initiative (CHRI), who procured this information through right to information (RTI) applications and researching proceedings in Parliament,  says, “Not much is known about the human cost of such earnings which expand the country’s forex reserves quietly.’’
 
Another revelation under RTI is that during the first half of this financial year alone (April-September 2018), Indian blue-collared workers in these countries had remitted $33.47 billion back home. In fact, as per the World Bank estimates, Indian workers in UAE had remitted $72.3 billion between 2012-2017 whereas Indians in the US  remitted $68.37 billion, UK at $23 billion and a mere $17.3 billion from Canada, during this period.
 
Observes Mr Nayak, “It appears that blue collared workers are contributing more to India’s forex kitty than the white-collared workers in the developed countries.’’
 
Mr Nayak filed an online RTI application in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The information he sought was the year-wise list of the names, age, sex, and occupation of Indian workers, who died in the countries of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE between 1 January 2012 onwards; and the cause of death as mentioned in the death certificates of every deceased Indian worker referred to at para 1 above for the same period. 
 
"The Central Public Information officer (CPIO) of MEA promptly transferred the RTI application to the CPIOs of the Indian embassies situated in the six Gulf countries. “It appears that MEA does not maintain data about the deaths of Indian workers unless queries are raised in Parliament,’’ Mr Nayak said.
 
The CPIOs of the embassy of Kuwait (which had all this information on its website since 2014), Bahrain, Oman and Qatar provided the data. Strangely though, the CPIO as well as the First Appellate Authority of UAE refused information citing Section 8 (1)(i), which exempts the disclosure of personal information which may cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual. 
 
Mr Nayak says, “While the Indian embassy in Kuwait displays the good practice of proactive information, the embassy in UAE refuses even the basic data. The other Indian embassies have refused details regarding the deaths of Indian workers sought in the RTI application by either citing Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act or by claiming that the information was held in multiple files in disaggregate form. They are striving to adopt the lowest common denominator instead of following the sterling example of the Indian mission in Kuwait.’’
 
In order to fill up the gaps in the data (between 2012-2013, which the Indian embassy in Kuwait did not display) and the data which UAE refused to disclose, Mr Nayak researched the websites of the Lok Sabha  and the Rajya Sabha  in Parliament and found the required data, to compile a sordid picture of the vulnerability of blue collar workers to fatalities. 
 
The following are the trends, analysed by Mr Nayak: 
 
  • Available data indicates that at least 24,570 Indian workers died in the six Gulf countries between 2012 and mid-2018. This number could increase if the complete figures for Kuwait and UAE are made available publicly. This amounts to more than 10 deaths per day during this period
  • Most number of deaths occurred in Saudi Arabia during this period while Bahrain accounted for the least number, i.e., 1,317 deaths. The most number of deaths occurred in 2015 – 4,702 whereas the smallest number was reported in 2012- 2,375
  • By July-August 2018, already 1,656 deaths had occurred
  • Only the CPIO of the Indian embassy in Qatar provided some information about the cause of deaths. While more than 80% of the deaths have been attributed to natural causes, almost 14% of the deaths occurred in accidents. Almost 6% of these deaths were due to suicides.
 
Comparing datasets of deaths with datasets relating to remittances, Mr Nayak observes that, while the World Bank publishes estimates of remittances from every country across the world, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) website does not have information of country wise data regarding remittances.
 
Here is the comparative analysis of the data regarding remittances received from Indians working in Gulf countries with the datasets relating to death:
 
  • Indians working in the Gulf countries accounted for more than half of the remittances that India received from all over the world between 2012-2017. While India received a total of $410.33 billion in remittances from the world over, remittances from the Gulf countries accounted for $209.07 billion.

 

  • According to World Bank estimates, UAE topped the list of Gulf countries from which remittances were received at $72.30 billion followed by Saudi Arabia ($62.60 billion); Kuwait ($25.77 billion); Qatar ($22.57 billion); Oman ($18.63 billion) and Bahrain came last with $7.19 Billion.

 

  • When compared with the dataset regarding deaths of Indian workers obtained through RTI and parliamentary records, there were more than 187 deaths for every billion (US) dollars received from Oman during 2012-17; more than 183 deaths for every billion (US) dollars received from Bahrain and 162 deaths for every billion (US) dollars received from Saudi Arabia. Qatar accounted for more than 74 deaths for every billion (US) dollars received while the lowest figure of 71 deaths for every billion (US) dollars received was from UAE.

 

  • Interestingly, while UAE was the source of the highest amount of remittances from Indian workers during the years 2012-2017 ($72.3 billion), it also had the lowest deaths per billion (US) dollars remitted to India (a little more than 71 deaths). Conversely, Bahrain, which came at the bottom of the list in terms of total remittances during the same period ($7.19 billion only), stands at the second place in terms of the number of deaths of Indian workers per billion (US) dollars remitted (a little more than 183 deaths). In other words every billion (US) dollars earned by Indian workers remitted from Bahrain cost much more in terms of deaths than a similar amount remitted from UAE.

 

  • A comparison of the remittances data from Gulf countries with the remittances from the Indian diaspora in the advanced countries of the western world, namely, UK, US and Canada shows some interesting trends. Indian workers in the UAE remitted $72.3 billion between 2012-2017, while remittances from Indians in the USA were only $68.37 billion during this period. Remittances from the UK at $23 billion and a mere $17.3 billion from Canada compare poorly with the remittances that Indian workers sent from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait during the same period. However, the Indian diaspora in the developed world seems to wield more political influence in India than the Indian worker community eking out a living in Gulf countries. This phenomenon also needs a deeper examination from researchers and academics

 

  • It appears that blue-collared workers are contributing more to India’s forex kitty than the white-collared workers in the developed countries. However, as a proportion of the total forex reserves at the end of the calendar year the share of the remittances seems to be declining in recent years. In 2012 remittances from Gulf countries were equal to 12.57% of the forex reserves (excluding gold and special drawing rights) declared by RBI for the week ending 29 December. In 2017, the remittances were only 9.97% of the year-end forex reserves declared by RBI.
 
The above comparison is not an attempt to label the remittances from the Gulf as blood money. Instead, the purpose of this comparative analysis is to highlight the shockingly large number of deaths of Indian workers in the Gulf countries. This phenomenon requires urgent examination. It is hoped that the Central government will start this exercise by making more information about deaths of Indian workers in these countries public. There is an urgent need to commission experts to study the cause of deaths - especially the large number of deaths labelled in Qatar as “natural deaths” and examine the conditions under which Indians work there and identify measures that will prevent avoidable deaths. 
 
Mr Nayak has filed an appeal with the Central Information Commission to examine the good practice of the Indian Embassy in Kuwait and direct the other embassies to emulate their standard of proactive information disclosure regarding the deaths of Indian workers abroad.
 
(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”.)
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