RTI activists in Mumbai and across the country have largely welcomed the decision and "clarity" given by the Supreme Court on monitoring of Section 4 implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The section talks about suo motu disclosure of information by the public authorities.
The SC has directed the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions to ensure that public authorities follow the mandate of Section 4 of the RTI.
Understanding Section 4's Significance
The transparency Act that allows citizens to access timely information with penal provisions also states that the government provides to citizens as much information suo motu so that they do not have to file RTI applications.
Lack of suo motu disclosure led to an increase in the RTI applications. Seeking monitoring of suo motu disclosure was always a matter of concern with the commission stating that the head of public authority should be looking after its implementation and activists seeking the commission's greater role as a guardian to the RTI Act.
Directive for Transparency
“It is a wonderful order and takes the cause of transparency law to greater heights. It is now the responsibility of the commissions to act more vigilantly and duty of public authorities to provide as much information as possible under suo motu disclosure,” said KC Jain, the petitioner on whose application the judgement came to be given by a three member bench headed by the chief justice of India. Welcoming the order, a city based activists said he would soon approach the state commission with it. "The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) circular talks about updating the information twice a year and that the audit be done. Commissions and government institutions need to take assistance from citizens groups to upload Section 4 manuals for greater transparency," said Bhaskar Prabhu, RTI activist.
"The best thing the SC order has done is to make it clear who is responsible for ensuring suo motu disclosure. They cannot get away with it," said Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd.), who looks to take up issues with the Central Information Commission.
However, some were categorical in questioning the far reaching effectiveness of the order.
"This is a controversy from my perspective. After the Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Law, it needs to be seen how this will be implemented. The RTI Act had provisions to provide personal information with safeguards. DPDP has done away with the provisions pertaining to personal information under RTI. What cannot be given under RTI, how it will be given suo motu is to be seen. The RTI Act had safeguards that should not have been done away with," said Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner.
Section 4 of RTI Act
Section 4 of RTI Act mandates public authority to maintain records catalogued and indexed in a manner that facilitates right to information and easy access of information to citizens. Such record has to include particulars, functions, duties, powers, procedure followed in the decision making process including channels of supervisions and accountability, discharge of functions, rules and regulations, remuneration, budget allocation, subsidy, publishing relevant facts while formulating important policies, providing reasons for administrative or quasi-judicial decisions among others and to ensure that these reach citizens.