Aman Sharma, ET Bureau Oct 22, 2014, 02.20AM IST
(The Department of Personnel…)
NEW DELHI: It had been expected to dilute the UPA government’s showpiece Right to Information (RTI) Act that had become a scourge of sorts for its ministers and bureaucrats and was even blamed by some as a contributing factor for the policy paralysis during its reign. But the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has done the reverse and taken RTI to quite another level.
Starting next month, all replies given under RTI by ministries will be posted online, available for access to all and not just to persons seeking the information. This will mean unprecedented scale of disclosure and cheer transparency advocates, especially those in the NGO sector with whom this government has had a testy relationship. Until now, only the person filing the RTI application seeking replies from a ministry or a government department would get the reply and that too mostly via post.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on Tuesday issued an official memorandum to all central ministries and departments directing them to take “immediate action” to ensure that “the facility to upload the reply to RTI application and first appeal on the website of the respective ministry or department” may be started from October 31. Replies to queries will be put up on ministries’ website and be available for all to view and not just the person behind the query.
The move has won the government plaudits. Satyanand Mishra, former Chief Information Commissioner, told ET that the step takes transparency under the RTI Act to “just another level.” “It is a very good and welcome step. It will not only improve transparency but also reduce workload of government officials as it will help eliminating possibility of repeated RTI queries on the same issue,” Mishra said.
“As far as person whose RTI reply is put online, someone seeking transparency in form of a RTI plea should not have any problem is government shows the same transparency and makes the reply to him public,” he added. Incidentally, the UPA government too had tried to do a similar thing and even passed instructions to this effect in April last year, but its move could never be implemented.
A DoPT official told ET that the Modi government was now implementing what could not be done by its predecessor, noting that the RTI Act had a specific provision for suo-moto disclosure of information. “Any person can now check a website to see what information has already been asked for and provided under RTI and hence the Ministry will be relieved of answering the same queries again and again. It will also bring transparency,” a senior DoPT official said, requesting anonymity.
The DoPT note to ministries, while exhorting disclosure, also warns them to exercise caution while dealing with information that could affect privacy of individuals.
“It may be noted that RTI applications and appeals received and their responses relating to personal information of an individual may not be disclosed, if they do not serve any public interest,” the note said.
On its part, the DoPT has already added, on a pilot basis, a new feature on its website that gives an option to all Central Public Information Officers to upload replies to RTI on its site. The PMO recently led by example by disclosing the details on number of staff, PM’s staff and also the assets of all central ministers.
The UPA birthed the RTI with great pride in 2005, but found itself bruised periodically by the transparency revolution it had unleashed. Some political storms triggered by the RTI during the UPA era include letters between Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi on RTI amendments; in the telecom scam, the communication between Singh and the then-telecom minister A Raja; the exchange between the PM and the CJI on the declaration of assets by judges and letters from three sports ministers that flagged off the c o r r uption in the 2010 Commonwealth Games spending.