Circular Pe Circular! Maharashtra Govt Asks Public Authorities To Suo Motu Disclose Information under Section 4 of RTI Act
Time and again, be it curtailment in killings of whistle-blowers or minimising the number of right to information (RTI) applications under Section 6 of the RTI Act, the importance of suo motu disclosures under section 4 of this law have been amplified every now and then. However, its implementation has been largely ineffective, thanks to the bureaucratic attitude of keeping information a secret and the attitude of political leaders who would rather lock it, wary of embarrassing exposures of financial irregularities or corruption.
The non-implementation by the public authorities of Section 4 of the RTI Act has been the biggest defeat of the law, as it has led to a massive number of written RTI applications which are piling up as pending second appeals or complaints at the offices of information commissioners (sometimes for two years and more) and has made RTI users and activists vulnerable to physical assaults leading to serious injuries and deaths, practically in every state of India.
Once again, with the direction of the Supreme Court to a writ petition filed by Kishan Chand Jain vs Union of India in 2021, the Maharashtra government has issued a circular early this week on 4 March 2024, to all its ministries and public authorities which come under the RTI Act. The circular also refers to the letter of the state chief information commissioner on 22 December 2023 which had directed implementation of Section 4 of the RTI Act. 
The circular states that, for the implementation of Section 4 of the RTI Act, the general administration department (GAD) has, time and again, sent circulars but it has not been followed strictly by the public authorities and ministries that come under this Act.  Hence, all public authorities are instructed as follows:
• The information stipulated in section 4(1) should be made available for public access.
• A designated responsible officer must be appointed in accordance with section 4(1) to oversee the publication of information.
• Directives concerning the disclosure of information pertaining to 17 specific points should be issued in compliance with section 4(1).
• Implementation of Section 4 should undergo a transparent third-party audit, with government training institutes being chosen for this purpose.
• Information, in accordance with section 4(1), must undergo quarterly updates.
• The collector, serving as the coordinating officer for section 4, is required to include details in the annual self-assessment report regarding actions taken in his capacity as the nodal officer. The revenue and forest department should issue relevant instructions on this matter at their level.
Will this circular be taken seriously by the public authorities? According to RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, the citizens should not harbour the misconception that the orders of the Supreme Court will necessarily be implemented by the public authorities of the Maharashtra government. So far, they have not been hauled up or penalised for non-implementation of Section 4.
If you wade through the websites of various state and central public authorities you will find sketchy details of information. None are live or updated from time to time.
Following are the obligations of public authorities under Section 4 of the RI Act which the GAD of Maharashtra has asked to comply with:
(1) Every public authority shall
(a) maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated;
(b) publish within one hundred and twenty days from the enactment of this 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 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 public;
(d) provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the 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".)
1 month ago
By issuing circular after circular, the GAD washes off its hands leaving the PIOs to fend for themselves. It's an old trick of the bureaucracy to bluff the courts and people. But the PIOs have their own excuses dime a dozen to deny the information. In sum, no political establishment is interested in accountability and transparency in governance for the simple reason that all of them are birds of the same feather(corruption).
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