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Govt Tells Parliament Again: No Mechanism To Monitor Its Own Transparency Directive

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Readers may remember previous dispatches about our efforts 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, they are required to submit such 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 departments requiring them to upload monthly reports of their major achievements, significant developments and important events. Ever since, the Parliament has been asking questions regarding compliance with this circular.

The Central government admits, in the Parliament, the absence of a mechanism to monitor its own transparency directive

On February 8, 2018, in the Rajya Sabha, V Vijaysai Reddy, MP (YSR Congress) of Andhra Pradesh asked the Hon’ble Prime Minister (PM) about the existence of the CIC’s order, the Cabinet Secretariat’s circular and whether the Government has any mechanism to monitor 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) 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/Cabinet Secretariat’s directive raised by Rajesh Ranjan, MP, Pappu Yadav and Ranjeet Ranjan, MP (both belonging to Rashtriya Janata Dal) in the Lok Sabha.

For the second time, the govt has said that it has no mechanism to monitor the compliance of Central ministries and departments to the transparency directive. (Photo by Yasbant Negi/India Today Group/Getty Images)

Current status of compliance with the transparency directive across Central ministries and departments

Anticipating the Central government’s reply, 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.

(Refer to the tabulated data here: Compliance-chart)

Status of compliance across 52 Central ministries

1. Only 13% of the Central ministries are either fully or reasonably compliant with the transparency directive. Nevertheless, this may be taken as a 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%.

2. Having uploaded all the 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.

3. Three ministries – Civil Aviation, Coal and Petroleum and Natural Gas have published monthly reports up to December 2017.

4. The Ministry of Finance has published monthly reports up to November 2017 only.

5. The Ministry of Earth Sciences has published monthly reports from January to December, 2017. Reports of previous months are not accessible on its website.

6. 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.

7. The Ministry for Textiles has uploaded the monthly report for December 2017 only. The earlier reports which we had found during our last round of compliance survey seem to have been taken off the website.

8. 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 – a practice which had started in April 2015.

9. 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:

1. 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 departments that have their own websites, only 6.5% (three out of 46) are compliant with the transparency directive. This figure has remained stagnant since we monitored compliance in 2017.

2. Only the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and the Department of 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 dispatch.

3. The DoPT deserves credit for displaying the link to monthly reports more prominently on its home page than any other Central ministry or department.

4. The Department of Justice has published all reports for 2017 but seems to have removed reports of the previous months.

5. The Department of Investment and Public Asset Management has published only bullet-pointed information (two to four) for each month. While the report for December 2017 is easily accessible, earlier reports are archived and require some effort to trace on the website.

6. Similarly, the monthly reports of the Department of Pharmaceuticals are published intermittently and require some effort to locate amidst other documents.

7. The Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances stopped publishing monthly reports after January 2017.

8. The Department 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. They have stopped publishing, once again, after October 2017.

9. 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 departments are under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Urgent need for establishing a monitoring mechanism

Section 25(1)(c) of the RTI Act obligates the Central government to make it mandatory for all public authorities (under its control) to publish accurate information about their activities from time to time. This is a statutory mandate. The CIC/Cabinet Secretariat’s transparency directive is a right step 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 the 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.

This research was put together by John Mascrinaus and Shikha Chhibbar of the ATI Programme, CHRI and Geetika Vyas of Symbiosis Law School, Noida, who interned with CHRI.

A version of this post was first published here.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Yasbant Negi/India Today Group/Getty Images
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