Government of India tells Parliament it does not monitor poor compliance

Government of India tells Parliament it does not monitor poor compliance

The Union Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions has said in Parliament yesterday (29th March, 2017) that the Government has not put in place any mechanism to monitor compliance of ministries and departments with a June 2016 directive of the Cabinet Secretariat (Cab. Sectt.) requiring them to publish on their websites, the progress of work done and major achievements and events, every month

The Minister acknowledged the existence of such a transparency directive, while replying to a set of questions raised in the Lok Sabha by Ms. Ranjeet Ranjan, MP (Indian National Congress) representing Supaul constituency in Bihar and Mr. Rajesh Ranjan @ Pappu Yadav MP, (Rashtriya Janata Dal) representing Madhepura constituency in Bihar. The husband-and-wife duo had based their queries on news reports of a compliance study that CHRI undertook in October, 2016

Readers will remember that the Cab. Sectt.'s directive was the result of litigation brought by CHRI before the Central Information Commission (CIC) for the proactive disclosure of the monthly reports of work done by every ministry and department that must be prepared and submitted to the Union Cabinet under Rule 10 of the Rules of Procedure in Regard to Proceedings of the Cabinet, 1987.  Based on the April 2016 recommendation of the CIC, the Cab. Sectt. issued the transparency directive to all ministries and departments.

In October, 2016, four months after the Cabinet Secretariat issued the transparency directive, we undertook a quick study of the status of compliance of Ministries and Departments. We found only three ministries and two departments fully complying with this requirement. The details of this initial study conducted in October, 2016 which occasioned the parliamentary query are available on our website.

Latest compliance survey of websites of GoI Ministries and Departments

In anticipation of the Central Govt.'s reply to the latest parliamentary query, we surveyed the official websites of 104 ministries and departments under the Government of India, again, to ascertain the current status of compliance with the Cab. Sectt.'s transparency directive. We looked for monthly reports of work done for the period June 2016 - February 2017. Our findings are given below. The dataset compiled during the website survey is in the 2nd attachment.

Compliance Status in Ministries

  • Less than 8% of the Ministries (4 of 52) have complied fully with the Cab. Sectt.'s transparency directive by uploading on their websites all monthly reports from June 2016 to February 2017. The Ministries of Coal, Home Affairs, Environment and Forests and Climate Change and Social Justice and Empowerment are fully compliant with the transparency directive as they have uploaded reports for all nine months since June 2016. This is a slight improvement since our last study where we found that only three Ministries were fully compliant with the Cab. Sectt.'s directive.
  • The Ministries of Textiles, Rural Development and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) which were fully compliant in October, 2016, have failed to publish their monthly reports in subsequent months (see page 1 of the 2nd attachment).
  • Only the Coal Ministry continues to upload all monthly summaries to Cab. Sectt. compiled in Hindi since July 2014 and in English since September 2014 much before the transparency directive was issued
  • The Ministry of Civil Aviation has uploaded monthly reports only up to December 2016. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has not uploaded monthly reports for December, 2016 and February, 2017. The MSME Ministry has stopped uploading monthly reports after November 2016 while the Ministry of Rural Development has not uploaded its reports after July, 2016. The Ministry of Textiles has published its report only for August 2016 and stopped this practice afterwards. The Ministry of Statistics ans Programme Implementation has uploaded its monthly reports for July-September, 2016 and stopped ever since.
  • In other words, almost 2/3rds (65.38%) of the Ministries (34 of 52) are not compliant with the transparency directive at all, till date. They have not uploaded any monthly report of the work done during the last nine months.
  • 8 of the 52 Ministries do not have dedicated websites of their own. Only their constituent departments have dedicated websites. These include the Ministries of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Chemicals and Fertilizers, Commerce and Industry, Communications, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, and Science and Technology. So whether these Ministries compile monthly reports as per the transparency directive cannot be ascertained unless one files an RTI application for the same.

Compliance Status in Departments

  • Less than 6% (3 of 52) of the Departments have complied fully with the Cab. Sectt.'s transparency directive by publishing all monthly reports from June 2016 to February 2017. These are the Depts. of Personnel and Training, Investment and Public Asset Management and Department of Justice3/4ths (75%) of the Departments (39 of 52) surveyed have not published any monthly report, till date, on their official websites.
  • In October 2016, we found that only 2 Departments had complied fully with the transparency directive, namely the Depts. of Industrial Policy and Promotions and health and Family Welfare. So this is a slight improvement in 2017. However, the Dept. of Industrial Policy and Promotions has stopped publishing its monthly report after July 2016. The Dept. of Health and Family Welfare which was fully compliant in October, 2016 has published all reports since June 2016 except the latest one due, namely for February, 2017.
  • The Dept. of Administrative and Public Grievances has published reports for all months except the latest which is due, namely, February, 2017. The Dept. of School Education and Literacy stopped publishing monthly reports after August 2016 while the Dept. of Official Language stopped publishing such reports after June 2016.
  • 3 Depts., namely, Home and States (under the Ministry of Home Affairs) and that of Social Justice and Empowerment (under Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment) do not have websites of their own but link up to the respective ministry's website.

Need for establishing a mechanism to monitor compliance

The Union Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions said in his reply to the recent parliamentary query that the Central Government had not commissioned CHRI to do a compliance study vis-a-vis the Cab. Sectt.'s transparency directive. Indeed, this is true. CHRI's twin studies are a civil society initiative aimed at presenting evidence-based research to the Government for ensuring compliance of its own ministries and departments with its own directives. This becomes necessary, when the Government fails to set up a mechanism to monitor the implementation of its own directives.

Except the Coal Ministry, other ministries and departments that are compliant with the Cab. Sectt.s' transparency directive seem to be specially preparing these monthly reports for publication, instead of uploading the reports they are required to send to the Union Cabinet. This is an unnecessary and clearly avoidable burden on them.

Monthly progress reports submitted to the Union Cabinet contain two parts- one, classified, as it may contain sensitive information and the other part- unclassified. The Cab. Sectt. must issue a clarificatory directive to all ministries and departments stating that all unclassified portions of the monthly summaries that they submit to the Cabinet must be uploaded on the websites in the same format every month. The classified portions of the monthly summaries which attract the exemptions listed in The Right to Information Act, 2005 may be withheld from publication but a detailed explanation must be provided as to which section of the classified report is being withheld under which exemption clause and why.

A simply monitoring mechanism may be put in place by requiring every ministry and department to certify to the Cab. Sectt. at the time of submission of monthly reports, that they have uploaded the unclassified portions on their website and which classified portions of the report are being withheld for which reasons permissible under the RTI Act and why. This certification and explanation may be submitted along with the monthly report to the Cabinet Sectt. The Cab. Sectt., being the coordinating body between all ministries and departments, must ensure that they comply with its transparency directive. Non-compliance means scant respect for the rule of law by the ministries and departments whose primary duty is to uphold the law of the land and the public interest. Transparency is a non-negotiable in the age of RTI.

Compliance with the Cab. Sectts.' transparency directive is imperative because it gives effect to Section 25(1)(c) of the RTI Act which requires the Central Government to ensure that all public authorities under its jurisdiction disseminate accurate information about their activities in a timely manner.

I hope RTI users and advocates who read this email alert will write to the Cab. Sectt. to establish a mechanism to monitor compliance with its transparency directive in all ministries and departments.

(The author thanks Ms. Dhriti Mehta of I.P. College for Women who interned with CHRI and Ms. Sneha Chandna, Research Assistant, CHRI for all assistance provided in compiling this data.)