New Delhi: Even as the Narendra Modi government yesterday admitted in parliament that it does not have any mechanism to monitor compliance with its own transparency directive, a quick check of the websites of 52 central ministries, and 52 departments under their charge, by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative for compliance with the requirement of proactive disclosure of monthly activities and achievements has revealed that while only 13% of the ministries were either fully or reasonably compliant with the transparency directive, in the case of the departments this rate was even lower at just 5.7%.
Raising the issue of how there was an urgent need to establish a monitoring mechanism as Section 25(1)(c) of the Right to Information Act obligates the Central Government to require all public authorities under its control to publish accurate information about their activities from time to time, Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator at CHRI, said there is a statutory mandate for this too and the transparency directives issued by the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the Cabinet Secretariat were “right steps in this direction”.
‘Deficit of political and bureaucratic will’ to blame
However, he lamented that “the evidence indicates a deficit of both political and bureaucratic will to ensure compliance with this transparency requirement. The Central Government has not committed to developing a mechanism to monitor compliance despite being reminded twice in Parliament”.
Therefore, he said, perhaps it is time to move the CIC again to issue a binding direction to establish such a mechanism under the Cabinet Secretariat or the Department of Personnel and Training.
Nayak explained that Rule 10 of the Rules of Procedure in Regard to the Proceedings of Cabinet, 1987, required the ministries and departments to submit reports about their activities to the Cabinet Secretariat every month. But, he said, barring the Ministry of Coal, no other Ministry had volunteered to make this information public.
Consequently in April 2016, the CIC had issued a recommendation to the Cabinet Secretariat to upload monthly reports of work done by all ministries and departments on their respective websites. “Within two months of the CIC’s recommendation, the Cabinet Secretariat issued a circular to all central ministries and departments requiring them to upload monthly reports of their major achievements, significant developments and important events,” he said.
But pointing to the large-scale non-compliance, Nayak said while “ever since, parliament has been asking questions regarding compliance with this circular”, the Central government has admitted to there being an “absence of mechanism to monitor its own transparency directive”.
In the latest reply, he said on February 8, in response to a question from V. Vijaysai Reddy of YSR Congress in the Rajya Sabha, who has asked the prime minister about the existence of the CIC’s order, the Cabinet Secretariat’s circular and as to whether the government has any mechanism to monitor the compliance across central ministries and departments, the Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions (who assists the PM) replied that the government does not have any mechanism to monitor compliance with its own transparency directive.
No regular performance reports
Pointing to the elaborate analysis of the performance of various ministries and departments by John Mascrinaus and Shikha Chhibbar of CHRI and Geetika Vyas of Symbiosis Law School, Noida who had interned with CHRI, Nayak said the study had noted that only 13% of the central ministries were “either fully or reasonably compliant” with the transparency directive and that “having uploaded all monthly reports up to January 2018 the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change is the only entity to comply fully with the transparency directive.”
Three other ministries – Civil Aviation, Coal and Petroleum and Natural Gas – were found to have published monthly reports up to December 2017, while Ministry of Finance had published them till November 2017. As for the Ministry of Earth Sciences, CHRI said, it had published monthly reports from January to December 2017 but reports for the previous months were not accessible on its website.
Amongst the worst performers were the Ministry of Mines, which appears to have stopped publishing monthly reports after February 2017; the Ministry for Rural Development stopped the practice after July 2016; and the Ministry for Corporate Affairs only revived the practice of publishing monthly bulletins in November 2017.
In the case of five ministries – Commerce and Industry; Communications; Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution; Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises and Science and Technology – the analysis revealed that they do not have separate websites of their own but were accessible to the public through the websites of their constituent departments.
Coming to the compliance of the 52 central departments, the report said less than 6% (5.7%) of them were compliant with the transparency directive having published monthly reports up to December 2017. The best performers here were the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and Food and Public Distribution that have uploaded all monthly reports up to December 2017.
The Department of Justice also published all reports for the calendar year of 2017 but appeared to have removed reports of the previous months.
The departments that have performed miserably here include the Department of of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances which stopped publishing monthly reports after January 2017; the Department of Health and Family Welfare that has not been regular with its monthly reports – having started out in August 2016 but then stopping the practice, only to resume it in June 2017 and then stopping it once again in October 2017.