By Venkatesh Nayak*
To ensure compliance with proactive information disclosure obligations under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act), under Rule 10 of the Rules of Procedure in Regard to the Proceedings of Cabinet, 1987, government ministries/ departments are required to submit reports to the Cabinet Secretariat every month. With the exception of the Ministry of Coal no other Ministry had volunteered to make this information public.
In April 2016, the Central Information Commission (CIC) had issued a recommendation to the Cabinet Secretariat to upload monthly reports of work done by all Ministries and Departments on their respective websites. Within two months of the CIC’s recommendation, the Cabinet Secretariat issued a circular to all Central Ministries and Departmentsrequiring them to upload monthly reports of their major achievements, significant developments and important events. Ever since, Parliament has been asking questions regarding compliance with this circular.
Central Government admits in Parliament, absence of mechanism to monitor its own transparency directive
On 08 February, 2018, Mr. V. Vijaysai Reddy, MP (YSR Congress) of Andhra Pradesh asked the Hon’ble Prime Minister (PM) in the Rajya Sabha about the existence of the CIC’s order, the Cabinet Secretariat’s circular and as to whether the Government has any mechanism to monitor the compliance across Central Ministries and Departments.
In a written reply to the Unstarred Question of the MP, the Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions (who assists the PM) has once again said that the Government does not have any mechanism to monitor compliance with its own transparency directive
Earlier, in March 2017, the same Minister gave a similar reply to a similar question regarding compliance with the CIC/Cab Sectt.’s directive raised by Mr. Rajesh Ranjan, MP @ Pappu Yadav and Ms. Ranjeet Ranjan, MP (both belonging to Rashtriya Janata Dal) in the Lok Sabha.
Current status of compliance with the transparency directive across Central Ministries and Departments
Anticipating the Central Government’s reply, we we kept ready a quick website check of 52 Central Ministries and 52 Departments under their charge for compliance with the requirement of proactive disclosure of monthly activities and achievements. Our findings about the status of compliance across these 104 entities are given below:
Status of compliance across 52 Central Ministries:
- Only 13% of the Central Ministries are either fully or reasonably compliant with the transparency directive. Nevertheless, this may be taken as considerable improvement over the compliance rate of 8% that we reported in March 2017 when the issue was raised in the Lok Sabha. If only 47 Ministries that have their own websites are counted, the compliance rate in 2018 goes up to 14.89%;
- Having uploaded all monthly reports up to January 2018 the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change is the only entity to comply fully with the transparency directive;
- Three Ministries- Civil Aviation, Coal and Petroleum and Natural Gas have published monthly reports up to December 2017;
- The Ministry of Finance has published monthly reports up to November 2017 only;
- The Ministry of Earth Sciences has published monthly reports from January – December 2017. Reports of previous months are not accessible on its website;
- The Ministry of Home Affairs is also reasonably compliant with the transparency directive having uploaded reports up to December 2017. But monthly reports for May and July 2017 are missing from this section of its website;
- The Ministry for Textiles has uploaded the monthly report for December 2017 only. Earlier reports which we found during our last round of compliance survey seem to have been taken off the website;
- While the Ministry of Mines seems to have stopped publishing monthly reports after February 2017, the Ministry for Rural Development seems to have stopped this practice after July 2016. The Ministry for Corporate Affairs has revived its practice of publishing monthly bulletins since November 2017 which had started in April 2015;
- Five Ministries (Commerce and Industry; Communications; Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution; Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises and Science and Technology) do not have separate websites of their own. Instead they are accessible to the public through the websites of their constituent departments.
Status of compliance across 52 Central Departments:
- Less than 6% (5.7%) of the 52 Central Departments are compliant with the transparency directive having published monthly reports up to December 2017. Of the Depts. that have their own websites, only 6.5% (3 of 46) are compliant with the transparency directive; This figure has remained stagnant since we monitored compliance in 2017;
- Only the Depts. of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and Food and Public Distribution have uploaded all monthly reports up to December 2017. None of them had uploaded the monthly report for January 2018 at the time of this despatch;
- DoPT deserves credit for displaying the link to monthly reports more prominently on its Home Page than any other Central Ministry or Department;
- of Justice has published all reports for the calendar year of 2017 but seems to have removed reports of previous months;
- of Investment and Public Asset Management has published only bullet pointed information (2-4) for each month. While the report for December 2017 is accessible easily, earlier reports are archived requiring some effort to trace on the website.
- Similarly, the monthly reports of the Dept. of Pharmaceuticals are published intermittently and require some effort to locate amidst other documents;
- of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances stopped publishing monthly reports after January 2017;
- of Health and Family Welfare has not been regular with the publication of its monthly reports. They started publishing in August 2016 but did not resume the practice until June 2017. Publication has stopped once again after October 2017;
- Six Departments (Border Management; Home; Internal Security; J&K Affairs, Social Justice and Empowerment and States) do not have websites of their own but link to their parent Ministry’s website. Five of these Depts. are under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
(This research was put together by John Mascrinaus and Shikha Chhibbar of ATI Programme, CHRI and Geetika Vyas of Symbiosis Law School NOIDA who interned with CHRI.)
Urgent need for establishing a monitoring mechanism
Section 25(1)(c) of the RTI Act obligates the Central Government to require all public authorities under its control to publish accurate information about their activities from time to time. This is a statutory mandate. The CIC/Cab. Sectt.’s transparency directive is the right steps in this direction. However, the evidence indicates a deficit of both political and bureaucratic will to ensure compliance with this transparency requirement. The Central Government has not committed to developing a mechanism to monitor compliance despite being reminded twice in Parliament. Perhaps it is time to move the CIC again to issue a binding direction for establishing such a mechanism under the Cabinet Secretariat or the DoPT.
*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi