Monday, March 14, 2016

Central, state ministers are public authority under RTI, must "voluntarily disclose" information

Sridhar Acharyulu
By Our Representative
In an important verdict, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that both Central and state ministers are a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, pointing out, “It is pitiful that a citizen has to file a RTI request to know the timings and process of meeting their chosen minister, which should have been ordinarily provided on their own.”
The ruling, which is likely to have implications, said, the Commission is of the opinion that there is “no reason” why Ministers should be kept beyond the purview of the RTI Act, “as their answerability is well established by the Constitution and Representation of People Act.”
The ruling said, “The expression ‘authority’ would include all persons or bodies that have been conferred a power to perform the functions entrusted to them under the constitution and merely because the Ministers are individuals, the same would not render the office of the Cabinet Minister any less authoritative than other constitutional functionaries.”
Given by Central Information Commission Prof Sridhar Acharyulu on March 12, 2016, the ruling said, “Ministers in Union and State Governments are public authorities”, recommending, “The Centre and States provide necessary support to each Minister, which includes designation of some officers or their appointment as Public Information Officers (PIOs) and First Appellate Authorities (FAAs).”
Insisting that ministers should provide “suo motu disclosure of information”, the ruling said, the appointment of a PIO should be made within two months, adding, “It will be in fitness of democratic requirements that every minister makes it a regular practice once or twice or thrice in a week or month at any frequency of his choice, that he/she will be made available for meeting the people in a scheduled hour.”
“It is the democratic right of voters to meet him and also it’s his duty to meet voters which will go a long way in achieving the objectives of good governance through transparency as envisaged by the RTI Act”, the ruling said.
The ruling came in response to appellant Hemant Dhage, who, through his RTI application, addressed the Additional Private Secretary of the Minister of Law and Justice, had sought to know the time scheduled for common people to meet the Cabinet Minister and Minister of State in the Mantralay (Secretariat).
The applicant was informed by the PIO of Ministry of Law and Justice that no specific time was given for general public to meet the Minister. However, as and when requests are received, appointments are given subject to the convenience of the Minister, he was told.
Referring to various articles of the Constitution, Prof Sridhar observed that “both commonsense and Constitution suggests Minister is an authority constituted ‘by and under the Constitution’,” noting, the Minister’s salaries are determined by the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954.
The ruling said, “Each member of Council of Ministers both at State level and Union is provided with the office, sufficient staff and other resources and infrastructure. Some senior scale civil servants also serve them.”
It added, “Entire expenditure of provision and maintenance of the office along with salaries to the staff members is borne by the Government and paid from the tax-payers money. Thus state Minister is ‘public authority’ as per Section (h) (a) of RTI Act, 2005,” the Commission observed.

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