Government departments asked to carry out transparency audits
New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has suggested that all departments carry out transparency audits and identify questions that are frequently asked by people, seeking to reduce the backlog of right to information (RTI) applications.
“In each public authority, a committee of PIOs (public information officers) and FAAs (first appellate authorities) with rich experience of dealing with RTI applications and appeals is set up to identify the categories of information that are frequently asked for by applicants. Such information must be disclosed in the public domain to make it more user-friendly and should also be reviewed at regular intervals,” said an order issued by the department of the personnel and training (DoPT), headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Thursday’s DoPT order also said that the “task of undertaking transparency audits may be given to the respective training institutes under each ministry, department, public authority and across states and Union territories”.
The order came after DoPT examined recommendations of an expert committee on suo motu (on its own) disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005, which mandates proactive disclosure of maximum information by government departments.
An expert committee consisting of former chief information commissioner A.N. Tiwari and information commissioner at the Central Information Commission M.M. Ansari recommended a slew of measures to strengthen the implementation of Section 4 of the RTI Act. The committee submitted its report last year.
Subsequently, DoPT has issued several orders to government departments to improve transparency and put more information in the public domain. For instance, it has already asked departments to provide information sought most often on their website as suo motu disclosures.
The latest order is in line with those efforts. It has been sent to all central government ministries and departments as well as to state governments. DoPT is the nodal authority for implementation of the RTI Act.
The 30 June order also suggested the setting up of ‘information and facilitation centres’ in each public authority where public dealing is involved, to educate citizens about the information/documents available on the website of the department concerned and to provide printed publications to citizens on the categories of information that are frequently sought under the RTI Act.
“Information that is proactively disclosed must be properly categorized and organized in such a manner that it facilitates easy retrieval. Information on the website must be organized in a searchable and retrievable database to enable people to access the records. The nodal officer of each public authority must be made responsible for this,” the order added.
Experts welcomed the move.
“It is a welcome measure. However, for transparency audits, departments need to involve people who are users of that information. Their concerns should be taken into account,” said Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a non-governmental organization working on human rights-related issues.
Nayak, who has been part of DoPT’s task force for effective implementation of the RTI Act since 2011, said that the “department heads need to be made responsible for the effective implementation of the RTI Act and that should be made part of their performance appraisal”.