Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Modi govt cites residual issues, rejects RTI plea on "abolishing" Group of Ministers

By Our Representative
The Narendra Modi government has refused to part with copy of the order to abolish Group of Ministers (GoM) and Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoMs) citing "residual issues". The refusal comes in reply to a right to information (RTI) plea by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) activist Venkatesh Nayak. The activist had sought a copy of the cabinet order ratifying the Prime Minister's decision to abolish GoMs and EGoMs.
Rejecting the application to give the cabinet secretariat note ratifying the PM’s decision, the official concerned invoked Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act, saying that the decisions of Councils of Ministers and their reasons can be made public only after “the matter is complete, or over.”
Wondering whether the reply means that a final decision hasn’t yet been taken to abolish GoMs and EGoMs, Nayak asks: “What happened to the initial decision of the NDA government not to use the GoMs mechanism for carrying out any official work? If the decision was indeed taken by the Prime Minister and ratified by the Union Cabinet, what is so problematic with disclosing a copy of the order?”
Nayak further asks, “If the decision has been taken and ratified, why are there 'residual issues'? What are these 'residual issues'? Or was the decision itself taken and ratified in reckless disregard for its impact on the working of Government departments on pending issues?”
These questions, Nayak emphasizes, become even more relevant in the light of the latest news that a GoM has looked into amendments proposed in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. He wonders whether there was a decision to establish GoMs afresh in 2015 after deciding to abolish the entire mechanism in 2014.
One of the first decisions the Modi government took during the first week of its assumption of power in May 2014 was to abolish GoMs and EGoMs, calling them a legacy of the previous Congress-led UPA government. The abolition was interpreted as a move to overcome delays in decision making. There were more than a 100 GoMs and EGoMs established by the UPA.
The decision to seek the order abolishing GoMs and EGoMs came following an incomplete reply to an earlier RTI plea by Nayak to the PM office seeking information about it. In a reply, the PMO said that the actual number of GoMs abolished was 21 as on June 30, 2014 and of EGoMs abolished it was nine as on June 18, 2015.
As the PIO did not give a copy of the order of abolishing GoMs and EGoMs, Nayak decided to seek the order through a second RTI application in September 2014, thinking that the PMO might be ready to supply it, as the matter had gone cold. Instead of providing a copy of the decision, it transferred the matter to the cabinet secretariat, which cited “residual issues” for not providing the information.
Nayak comments, “The PMO needs to come clean on this needless controversy. As a duly elected government the NDA has every right to choose its mechanisms for taking decisions within the four corners of the constitution and the laws of the land. Nobody questions that right.”
However, he underlines, “The government also must live up to its promise of transparent and accountable governance by making information about such routine matters. Or else the Quest for Transparency mentioned on the PMO website will remain only a 'Quest' with Little Transparency.”

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