Cabinet Secretariat issues circular for disclosure of monthly reports of work done by ministries / departments
Readers will remember my email alert from May 2016 highlighting the order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) in my case relating to disclosure of agenda items of the Union Cabinet Meetings and the monthly reports of work done by Ministries and Departments. The CIC recommended that the Cabinet Secretariat (Cab. Sectt) consider the possibility of requiring all Ministries and Departments to upload on their official websites the summary reports of work done by them every month. The Cabinet Secretariat had denied access to these reports in 2014 by invoking Section 7(9) An information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question. of The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act). The CIC brushed aside this argument and recommended that the Cabinet Secretariat consider the possibility of requiring ministries and departments to upload those portions of their monthly reports of work done which are not classified "top secret" or "secret". Readers will recollect that a public authority may reject access to information only on the basis of Sections 8 and 9 which explain under what circumstances information may not be disclosed to citizens.
Cabinet Secretariat issues circular for disclosure of monthly reports of work done by ministries and departments
It must be appreciated that the Cabinet Secretariat has acted swiftly on the CIC's direction. Within about a month of the CIC's decision, that is, on 23 June, 2016, the Cabinet Secretariat has addressed a circular to the Secretaries of all Ministries and Departments stating as follows:
"In order to ensure greater transparency and availability of information in public domain about the activities of the Ministries/Departments, it has been decided that henceforth, all Ministries /Departments may upload, on a monthly basis, the major achievements, significant developments and important events for the month in respect of their Ministry/Department, on their official websites."
I hope readers will appreciate that the objective of this effort is not to facilitate propaganda for the Central Government. The purpose of this effort is to secure compliance with Section 26(1)(c) of the RTI Act which reads as follows:
"26. (1) The appropriate Government may, to the extent of availability of financial and other resources,—
X X X X
(c) promote timely and effective dissemination of accurate information by public authorities about their activities;" [emphasis supplied]
Section 26(1)(c) and Section 4(1) of the RTI Act which are about proactive information disclosure are very poorly implemented by most public authorities.
Meanwhile, in its April 2016 decision, the CIC directed Cabinet Secretariat to continue to allow inspection of the agenda items of the meetings of the Union Cabinet. Cabinet Secretariat has not issued any directive about the proactive disclosure of these items on its website. Last week I inspected the agenda items of the Union Cabinet meetings held between 01 January and 12 May, 2016. I have sought copies of these papers as well as the minutes of these meetings. I will post them online as soon as the information is furnished. I also asked that the Rules of Cabinet Procedure in regard to Proceedings of the Cabinet, 1987 be uploaded on the website. Cabinet Secretariat is yet to take a decision on this issue, I was told.
Monitoring compliance with the Cab. Sectt.s' circular in GoI and reporting systems in the States and UTs
Now that the Cabinet Secretariat has issued the circular making it a task for the ministries and departments to upload their monthly reports on their websites, it is for the RTI fraternity in civil society and the mass media to keep a watch over compliance in the Central Government.
Advocators of transparency might like to find out if similar reporting mechanisms exist in the States and Union Territories. I am reminded of the Monthly Programme Implementation Calendar (MPIC) system that was initiated a few years ago in Karnataka. This system of reporting on the physical and financial progress of all developmental programmes for which there was a budget head was recognised as good practice in the Section 4 guidelines issued by the Department of Personnel and Training in 2013. There may be similar reporting systems in other States as well. I request RTI activists and supporters of the regime of transparency to make similar efforts for the implementation of Section 26(1)(c) of the Central RTI Act in all the States and Section 23(1)(c) of the J&K RTI Act in Jammu and Kashmir.