The Cabinet Secretariat issued an Office Memorandum recently directing all the Ministries/Departments of the Government of India to upload the major achievements, significant developments and important events every month on their respective websites, in a bid to ensure greater transparency.
The Cabinet Secretariat recently issued an Office Memorandum (OM) to all the Ministries & Departments of Government of India, asking them to upload the major achievements, significant developments and important events for the month on their official websites every month. This OM comes after a recommendation from the Central Information Commission (CIC).
Mr. Venkatesh Nayak of New Delhi filed an application under the RTI with the Cabinet Secretariat in January 2015, regarding status of compliance of all Ministries and Departments, Government of India, with Rule 10 of the Rules of Procedure in regard to Proceedings of the Cabinet. Rule 10 of the Rules of Procedure refer to the monthly summaries to be prepared by each Ministry or Department regarding the activities, important decisions taken in each department during that month. The summary should not exceed four pages and is to be provided for the information of the Council of Ministers.
According the rules, the information of both classified and unclassified nature is to be included in the summary in two separate parts. The classified part has to be marked as ‘Confidential’, ‘Secret’, ‘ Top Secret’ as the case may be.
The Public Information Officer of the Cabinet Secretariat cited Sec 8(1)(i) of the RTI act and held that the first part of the information sought is exempt from disclosure. Sec 8(1)(i) of the RTI act reads that the ‘Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers’ will be exempt from disclosure. But the provision also says that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken.
The PIO also mentioned that the relevant Ministries or Departments are best placed to decide whether they can provide the desired information related to Cabinet Papers after ensuring that the matter is complete or over.
Aggrieved by the decision of the PIO and the appellate authority, Mr. Venkatesh Nayak filed a second appeal with the CIC. He contended that this information has been made available to him in the past and he was also permitted to inspect records on several occasions, particularly, during the years 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014.
The appellant, also stressed on the need for proactive disclosure under the RTI Act, and that information related to the topics placed on the agenda of the Union Cabinet may be disclosed once the decision is taken and such a disclosure is not violative of the RTI act.
The CIC’s recommendation
Mr. Venkatesh Nayak also suggested that monthly uploading of the information about the status of compliance with Rule 10 for every Ministry/ Department on the official website could be an option. He further stated that these monthly reports are unclassified and hence not exempt from disclosure under Section 8 of the RTI act.
The CIC in its order recommended that the cabinet secretariat consider proactive disclosure of monthly developments on the website of the relevant department in the interest of transparency and with a view to informing the public of the achievements of the Government.
Following the recommendation of the CIC in April 2016, the Cabinet Secretariat has now issued an OM directing all the Ministries/Departments of the Government of India to upload, on a monthly basis, the major achievements, significant developments and important events for the month in on their official websites. The OM also noted that this is to ensure greater transparency and availability of information in public domain about the activities of the Ministries/Departments.