Pankaj Sharma/Zee Research Group
The Central Information Commissioner (CIC) is peeved over several top public authorities in the country for not filing the requisite quarterly returns with the Central Information Commission.
The failure to file returns has a significant bearing on the transparency plank of the RTI Act. Among Union ministries, Finance Ministry tops the defaulters list when it comes to filing quarterly returns with the CIC. Of the 169 public authorities under it, 106 have emerged defaulters.
Lamenting the lack of provisions on penalty, Satyananda Mishra told Zee Research Group (ZRG) in an exclusive interview, “Unfortunately the RTI Act doesn’t have any provision to penalize the defaulters. It would be better if law mandates them (public authorities) to follow such instructions.”
Mishra was at pains to explain the criticality of the regular filing of returns. “We need to submit fully compiled report of all the RTI received, transferred and dismissed in all public authorities to Parliament every year. But our communication is the realm of a request while it is should be mandatory for public authorities to file returns listing out the entire RTI activity at their end,” he demanded.
An assessment of submission of ‘RTI Quarterly Return’ by CIC during 2010-11 revealed that 674 out of 2132 pubic authorities in the country came across as defaulters for not filling return in any quarter last year.
A maximum of 124 public authorities of Pondicherry were found to lead the overall defaulters list at CIC. At the Centre, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Corporate Affairs and Labour and Employment followed with 58, 48 and 29 public authorities respectively in the defaulter list.
Endorsing the CIC Mishra’s call to amend law to mandate public authority for filing return on time Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said, “It shows the public authorities are not committed towards their responsibilities. This is sending wrong signals and government should take appropriate actions against such authorities.”
Surprisingly only three ministries - Commerce and Industry, Communication and Information Technology and Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension had filed all their returns within the stipulated timeline.
Majority of the independent departments were also found short in filling their returns. Departments including Comptroller and Audit general (CAG), Election Commission of India, Cabinet Secretariat, Planning Commission, President and Vice President’s offices didn’t file their returns in any quarter. However, only one of two public authorities in Prime Minister Office (PMO) could file the quarterly return.
Pointing to lack of proper technology in government departments as a major hurdle in e-governance implementation, CEO, National Institute for Smart Government (NISG), Sanjeev Mittal said, “In absence of updated systems and facilities in various government departments it would be tough for a department to upload all the information online. It wouldn’t be tough to receive any RTI query online but its further actions online wouldn’t be as easy in the current scenario.”
As per the instructions issued by CIC under Section 25(2) of RTI Act, 2005 ministries or departments and union territories were responsible for submission of return in respect of public authorities under their jurisdiction.
CIC also precisely mentioned that the return sent either through hard copy or e-mail cannot be used by CIC and that the filing had to be done online only. For moving things expeditiously, CIC had launched RTI annual return information system which enables each of the ministries or departments to submit online the public authority wise annual return details.