India Issues Guidance on Doing Proactive Disclosure

26 April 2013

The Indian government has issued guidelines for the proactive disclosure of information, but missed a few key items, according to a leading Indian advocacy group.

The guidelines were prepared the Department of Personnel and Training with advice from a task force. The goal was to enhance implementation of the proactive disclosure obligations under Section 4 of the RTI Act. The task force included representatives of civil society and central and state governments.

According to the April 15 “Office Memorandum” on the guidelines, a large amount of information is being promulgated, “However, the quality and quantity of proactive disclosure is not up to the desired level.

The first section of the guidance describes eight categories of information that “Public Authorities may proactively disclose the following items also under the suo motu disclosure provisions of Section 4.” The broad areas are:

– Information related to procurement. “Information relating to procurement made by Public Authorities including publication of notice/tender enquiries, corrigenda thereon, and details of bid awards detailing the name of the supplier of goods/services being procured or the works contracts entered or any such combination of these and the rate and total amount at which such procurement or works contract is to be done should be disclosed.”

 – Public Private Partnerships, including information about fees, tolls, or other kinds of revenue that may be collected under authorization from the Government, information in respect of outputs and outcomes, process of selection of the private sector party may also be proactively disclosed.

– Transfer policy for different grades/cadres of employees serving in Public Authority should be proactively disclosed.

– RTI applications and appeals received and their responses, on the websites maintained by Public Authorities with search facility based on key words. RTI applications and appeals received and their responses relating to the personal information of an individual may not be disclosed, as they do not serve any public interest.

– The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) & Public Accounts Committee (PAC) paras and the Action Taken Reports (ATRs) “only after these have been laid on the table of both the houses of the Parliament. However, CAG paras dealing with information about the issues of sovereignty, integrity, security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State and information covered under Section 8 of the RTI Act would be exempt.”

– Citizens Charter prepared by the Ministry/Department, as part of the Result Framework Document of the department/organization should be proactively disclosed and six monthly report on the performance against the benchmarks set in Citizens Charter should also be displayed on the website of public authorities.

– All discretionary /non-discretionary grants/ allocations to state governments/ NGOs/Other institutions by Ministry/Department should be placed on the website of the Ministry/Department concerned.

-Information on Foreign Tours of PM/Ministers

Digital Delivery Guidance

The guidelines also go into detail on the Section 4 mandate that information should be provided through many mediums.

It is noted that The Department of Information Technology “has been working on setting of technical standards for government websites and the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances has published guidelines for websites of Government Departments.”

The DoPT guidelines lists 11 “principles” that should be “ kept in view to ensure that websites’ disclosures are complete, easily accessible, technology and platform neutral and in a form which conveys the desired information in an effective and user-friendly manner.” These include admonitions for timeliness and to post basic information, such as forms.

 The principles include:

–  “It should be the endeavor of all public authorities that all entitlements to citizens and all transactions between the citizen and government are gradually made available through computer based interface.”

– “Websites should contain detailed information from the point of origin to the point of delivery of entitlements/services provided by the Public Authorities to citizens.”

– “Orders of the public authority should be uploaded on the website immediately after they have been issued.”

– “Information must be presented from a user’s perspective, which may require re-arranging it, simplifying it etc.”

– “Information and data should be presented in open data formats whereby it can be pulled by different Application Protocol Interfaces to be used in different fashions more appropriate to specific contexts and needs. Information/ data can, for instance, be presented in powerful visual ways using visualisation techniques.”

The guidance also says agencies need to clearly describe their decision-making processes, in an integrated way. The standards by which agency performance should be judged also should be disclosed, the guidance says.

Disclosure of budget information is addressed, too.  One recommendation is that “simplified” versions of budgets be prepared.

Agencies should descsibe what  information is available in electronic form, according to the guidelines.

Public authorities should operationalize the guidelines in six months, according to the guidelines. They describe monitoring and compliance procedures.

 Omissions Noted

“Long overdue, these guidelines will provide invaluable guidance to public authorities to disclose a wealth of information about their structure, organization, working and financials in a systematic manner,” wrote Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Coordinator of the Access to Information Programme at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in a letter to the DoPT.

Nayak went on pointed out some omissions of “crucial” Task Force recommendations.

“For example, the Task Force report had recommended voluntary disclosure of lists of sensitive posts, transfer policies and transfer orders as proactive measures to combat corruption and misuse of discretionary powers.”

In addition, he wrote,  “The current DoPT Guidelines also omit the entire set of recommendations of the Task Force pertaining to the methodology of dissemination of the information disclosed proactively. The current guidelines focus more on disclosure through Internet websites. While uploading information on websites certainly puts it in the public domain, not many people in urban and rural India will be able to access it easily.”

He also noted that the Task Force “had recommended a set of practical guidelines to establish a consultative process for ascertaining people’s views on draft policies, laws, rules and regulations prior to their finalisation.”

“Further, the Task Force had recommended that the DoPT provide all Information Commission with infrastructural support to be able to undertake audits of the performance of public authorities vis?à?vis their proactive disclosure obligations under the RTI Act. In the absence of such a mechanism State Governments are unlikely to establish effective monitoring mechanisms on their own.”

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