Six years of RTI’s existence has empowered the Indian citizen as a proactive partner in governance like never before since Independence. But the government has not been able to digest it, ever since its implementation. Instead of trying to dilute or scuttle the Act, it’s time the government abides by Section (4) norms of ‘suo motu’ disclosure
Apart from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose innocence and ‘clean image’ stands exposed thanks to scandalous revelations through the RTI (Right to Information) Act, it is but natural that Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh should have apprehensions about the same.
Recently, he publicly declared that liberal use of RTI has made officials apprehensive about “noting on files.” He has been an indirect victim to it, as Dow Chemicals which was setting up a manufacturing unit under the garb of a Research Centre in Pune had to be asked by him through an SOS call from London (where he was on an official visit), to stall its construction. He was the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra and a letter written by Dow had revealed that he had taken personal interest in bringing the plant to Pune. All this was thanks to revelations under Section (4) of the RTI Act which included file notings as well.
When I did inspection of files under Section (4) of the Act to find out the nature of permissions given to Dow Chemicals for constructing its plant (it was being touted as a ‘Research Centre’ by the multinational) in a non-chemical zone in Pune, file notings of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), Pune, had revealed unreasonable favour given to Dow in term of quick land allocation—which is otherwise hard to get for a chemical project as it involves stringent environmental clearances. However, file notings on a document by the CEO, MIDC stated—“This is a prestigious project. Just get it examined from the pollution point of view and put up in 7 days.” Subsequently, another file noting by the CEO, MIDC stated with a desperate note, “This is with reference to application of Dow. Please discuss. This is urgent. Ask RO Pune to submit a report in two days on Dow.”
No EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) was done; there was no comprehensive Disaster Management Plan in place and there were no required environmental clearances from the MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests). Despite this, 100 acres of land was given away at a throwaway price for what was touted to be a Research Centre. It’s a long story to write here about how inspection of files proved that the state government had bent backwards to accommodate Dow, but suffice to say that finally the multinational voluntarily withdrew from Pune district as it could not suffer opposition of villagers, the prime stakeholders.
The point is, as citizens, we have a right to know about every step of a decision that has been taken by the government, when it involves the public at large. This is often revealed in file notings, as a file passes forward from the junior officer up to the Minister and at each step, remarks reveal information beyond
black & white typed words on the document. Hence, eminent personas who had drafted the most dynamic RTI Act and thereafter made it into law, penned that Section (4) makes it mandatory for every government department to ‘suo motu’ disclose such information in the public domain, preferably on websites. Section (4) (c) states: “Publish all relevant facts while formulation of important policies or announcing the decisions which affect the public.”
So, Mr Deshmukh’s insistence that the progress of a proposal should be out of the public domain is more to do with protecting vested interests. A wish that is perhaps shared by most politicians and bureaucrats, but one that has time and again been scuttled by stalwart RTI activists like Aruna Roy and Anna Hazare, when the aspect of deleting file notings had been proposed earlier also.
Also, instead of trying to nullify the RTI Act, it is time that the government functions in the true spirit of the Act as well in the spirit of good governance and transparency, so important in a democracy.
For six years, it is only citizens who have kept the Act alive—it’s time the government now does so, for a change, by abiding by the rules of Section (4). Section 4 (2) states: “It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information ‘suo motu’ to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including the Internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.”
WHAT INFORMATION CAN YOU GET UNDER SECTION (4)?
As a citizen, you should know that every government department must compulsorily put up in the public domain, the following information, even without a citizen asking for it under the RTI Act:
(i) The particulars of its organisation, functions and duties;
(ii) The powers and duties of its officers and employees;
(iii) The procedure followed in the decision-making process, including channels of supervision and accountability;
(iv) The norms set by it for the discharge of its functions;
(v) The rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions;
(vi) A statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control;
(vii) The particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with, or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof;
(viii) A statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted as its part or for the purpose of its advice, and as to whether meetings of those boards, councils, committees and other bodies are open to the public, or the minutes of such meetings are accessible for the public;
(ix) A directory of its officers and employees;
(x) The monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations;
(xi) The budget allocated to each of its agencies, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made;
(xii) The manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes;
(xiii) Particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by it;
(xiv) Details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form;
(xv) The particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information, including the working hours of a library or reading room, if maintained for public use;
(xvi) The names, designations and other particulars of the Public Information Officers;
(xvii) Such other information as may be prescribed; and thereafter, update these publications every year;
c) Publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect the public;
d) Provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU DO NOT GET THE INFORMATION?
1. Write a letter to your Information Commissioner with a complaint that the department is not abiding by Section (4) rules of ‘suo motu’ disclosure. Information Commissioners like Vijay Kuvalekar (Pune) and Shailesh Gandhi (Delhi) have acted upon such complaints by either slamming a penalty on the head of the departments or by ordering them to disclose information in the public domain within a specified time.
2. Form a group and visit government offices (that is, visit the head of the department) and ask him to show you how he has abided by Section (4). Take an RTI activist along so that he can appropriately guide you.
3. Thanks to Pune RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar and State Information Commissioner Vijay Kuvalekar, the Pune Municipal Corporation has kept every department open for file inspection, every Monday 3pm to 5 pm. Similarly, the Collector’s office, Pune, is open for file inspection every Friday
4. Dwarka-based RTI activist Rejimon CK suggests filing an application under Section (6) to find out whether government departments are adhering to Section (4)—however, please note that often government departments give insufficient information on their websites and claim that they are abiding by Section (4).
This is the format you can use:
The Public Information Officer,
*Sub: Application under the Right to Information Act 2005 *
Please provide the following information under the Right to Information Act 2005, with respect to
1. Under Section 4 (1) (a) of the Right to Information Act 2005, all public authorities are supposed to maintain all their records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner that facilitates the Right to Information. In this regard, what steps have been taken by your office to meet its obligation under Section 4(1) (a)? Please provide details of steps, mechanisms, process and/or systems adopted by your office to fulfil this responsibility.
2. Please provide certified copies of the instructions/orders etc. received from superior authorities with respect to implementation of the Right to Information Act 2005.
3. Under Section 4(2) of the Right to Information Act 2005, all public authorities have to ‘suo motu’ disclose information pertaining to their functioning as per the 17 points listed under Section 4(1) (b). In this regard please provide the following information:-
a) Has your office/department ‘suo motu’ made public information falling under all the 17 points listed under Section 4(1) (b)?
b) If yes, please provide information regarding the medium and format in which the information has been displayed.
c) Is this information easily accessible? Please list the options available to the public to access this information.
d) What steps has your office taken to provide as much information as possible ‘suo motu’ to the public so that they do not have to apply under Section 4 (2) of the RTI Act 2005? Please provide details of steps taken.
e) What steps have been taken by your office to disseminate widely the information with reference to Section 4 (1), in a manner easily accessible to the public? Please provide details of the steps taken for dissemination.
f) Has your office updated the information listed in the 17 points under Section 4(1) (b)? If yes, then please provide the dates on which the information was updated, the process undertaken to update the information, the officer(s) in-charge of ensuring that the information is updated and made available under Section 4(1) (b).
g) Has your office put up notice boards under Section 4 (4) (with reference to explanations), giving the details about the CPIO etc.; in its office and subordinate offices. If yes, then please provide certified copies of office orders sent to the concerned offices and action taken report received from them.
h) Has your office published all relevant facts while formulating policies or announcing decisions that affect the public as required under Section 4(1) (c)?
i) If yes, then please provide certified copies of notifications, orders, government resolutions, circulars and any other means of communication or documents, files including file notings through which the same was carried out.
j) What steps have been undertaken by your office to ensure that it provides reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons? Please provide details of the process, mechanism and/or systems that are in place to meet this obligation under Section 4(1) (d).
h) With respect to point 3 (g) above, I would like to inspect the said work under section 2 (j) Subsection (i) of the RTI Act 2005. Please let me know the date, time and venue for the inspection.
The above requested information may be kindly furnished within the time period of 30 days as provided in section 7.
Please do not use any acronym/abbreviations in the reply. The reply should be in English under Section 7(9) of the RTI Act 2005.
If you do not directly deal with this application or a part thereof, kindly forward it to the right PIO under Section 6(3) of RTI Act with intimation to me. You are required to do so within 5 days of receipt of this application, as per Section 6(3) of the Act.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected]).
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