Mumbai: Information commissioners recently urged the state government to establish an independent website and portal for the suo motu disclosure (Section 4 implementation) of the RTI Act by public authorities. They also demanded quarterly reports on its implementation, complete with certificates from respective department heads, and the allocation of manpower to monitor the process. These decisions were made following a meeting, prompted by a directive from the Supreme Court (SC) instructing central and state information commissions (SICs) to ensure the suo motu disclosure of information by various public authorities.
The minutes of the meeting held on October 6, chaired by Acting State Chief Information Commissioner and Brihanmumbai Commissioner Sunil Porwal, along with Samir Sahay, SIC of Pune and Aurangabad, Rahul Pande, SIC of Nagpur and Amravati, and Bhupendra Gurav, SIC of Konkan and Nashik Commissions, have been posted by the SIC.
Decisions about how often third-party audits should occur and who should conduct them will be made once a standard operating procedure (SOP) is prepared by the SIC of Pune. Other topics discussed included addressing staff vacancies and deputation issues, utilizing staff from ITI on an 'earn and learn basis' to oversee suo motu disclosure until further notice, enhancing the user-friendliness of the commission's website, and incorporating an online second appeal provision on the website.
Among the other issues discussed were providing specific directions to authorities on appeals where applicants should not have filed applications as information could have been made available suo motu by the public authority, SOPs for hearings, establishing facilities and infrastructure for video conferencing, offering options for online hearings for applicants at the collector's office, and forming a constitutional bench for larger legal matters.
Activists have welcomed these measures, emphasizing that the responsibility for implementing the suo motu disclosure of Section 4 lies with the commissions after the SC's order. "Creating a separate website with portals for suo motu disclosure of information by different public authorities is a positive step. However, the practical implementation of these initiatives remains crucial. Regarding audits, they should occur quarterly, with audit reports published within a month, to ensure meaningful impact," said Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner.
Gandhi's sentiments were echoed by other activists. Bhaskar Prabhu of Mahiti Adhikar Manch, an organization that promotes the usage of RTI, stated, "Monitoring and audits should be conducted by the commissions themselves, as they often mention in their annual reports that RTI applications are rising due to the lack of suo motu information availability. For manpower, they can seek assistance from citizen groups. Additionally, a link to the separate website for suo motu disclosures should be provided on the commission's website, and the commission must ensure that applicants receive information when Public Information Officers (PIOs) do not comply with the orders of the first appellate authority.