The trend of central and state public authorities ignoring suo motu disclosures, mandatory under Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, dates back to the day of its implementation on 12 October 2005.
Over the years, innumerable memorandums from the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) to the public authorities have been ignored. Close on the heels of the 14th anniversary of the RTI Act, we have good news comes from Rajasthan, the state that pioneered the RTI movement.
Rajasthan has launched the Jan Soochna Portal which will display all information that ought be voluntarily disclosed by public authorities under the RTI Act.
The information will be open to public scrutiny at the click of a mouse and without having to file and RTI application. I will display issues related to 13 departments comprising around 30 government schemes. These include public distribution and ration; farm loans; pensions; beneficiaries of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA); food grain distribution; government-run medical and health insurance schemes; land extract details to give a few examples.
Thus, citizen empowerment would be at its strongest. As you go through the website you will find documents pertaining to these issues have already been neatly uploaded. While the home page has an introduction in Hindi and English, information on every public authority is available at a click on their logo.
The home page of the portal http://jansoochna.rajasthan.gov.in/
states: “The Government of Rajasthan is proud to launch the Jan Soochna
Portal, conceptualized in collaboration with peoples' campaigns of Rajasthan”. This is the first public portal of its kind in the country aimed at disclosing information on a suo-moto as required under Section 4(2) of the RTI Act.
“It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the Act, to provide as much information suo-moto to the public at regular intervals through various means of communication, including the internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.
This endeavour is a result of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) activists, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, who were in the forefront of the RTI movement in India. At the inauguration of the portal by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot last week, Mr Dey said that the objective of ensuring easy access to the public of information that is rightfully theirs to seek under the RTI Act, was achieved through the joint effort of the Gehlot government and MKSS.
Pune-based RTI activist, Vjay Kumbhar, who attended the inauguration in Jaipur says, “This is the true implementation of Section 4’s suo motu disclosures under the RTI Act and is going to give the common person utmost relief. For, with the click of the mouse, she can procure even third party information entirely. For example information on the MNREGA scheme along with the muster roll has been uploaded. The Rajasthan government and MKKS have done a thorough and ideal job of providing information access under RTI. This will drastically reduce the number of RTI applications filed under Section 6.’’
Against the backdrop of the Centre’s RTI Amendment Act 2019, which weakened the law through an assault on the independence of the Information Commissioners, the pro active attitude of the Rajasthan government in launching this web portal deserves appreciation. It eliminates all the hassles of filing RTI applications, followed by first and second appeals.
So, how does one use this portal? All you need to do is go past the home page of http://jansoochna.rajasthan.gov.in/
to the page that has logos of the 13 government schemes. Click on the one you require and it opens to several relevant documents uploaded in pdf format. The next step planned by the Gehlot government is to develop an APP of this portal so that information can be accessed through the smart mobile.
If, every state government follows Rajasthan’s example, the adverse effects of the RTI Amendments 2019 would be nullified. Kudos to this citizen-friendly venture, where governance becomes pro-active and transparent.
(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”.