On April 28, 2012, I attended a meeting organised by CIVIC Bengaluru on 'An analysis of proactive disclosures of seven departments or service agencies under Section 4(1) of the Right to Information Act 2005'. The meeting was called to disseminate the findings of a research study which CIVIC Bengaluru had funded. The study was conducted on the progress of proactive disclosure activities by the following civic agencies in Karnataka - BBMP, BDA, BWSSB, Food Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs Department, Health & Family Welfare Department, Women & Child Welfare Department and Social Welfare Department. The study was conducted by Mr. Y.G. Muralidharan.
Mr. A. K. M. Nayak, Chief Information Commissioner of the state of Karnataka and Ms. Shalini Rajneesh, Principal Secretary of the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms (DPAR) along with officials from the seven departments that were studied were invited to the meeting. Representatives from most of the civic agencies were present at the meeting.
The meeting began with a presentation by Mr. Muralidharan on the main findings from the research study. The study was largely based upon a survey of the information contained in the agencies' websites.
Some salient points from the research study were:
All departments performed very poorly in proactive disclosure of policy formulation.
The study found that there was poor availability of Kannada language information online, except in the case of the Food & Civil Supplies Department.
The agencies studied have not put up the list of electronic records they hold in their proactive disclosure manual.
The agencies studied have not put up the status and nature of RTI queries received by them, except for KSPCB.
Many of the agencies that were studied have put up details regarding their organisational functions, powers and duties of officials. But they have not rationalised this information. For example, one department has even said "The duty of a driver is to drive" on its website!
Most departments have not rationally organised their website information.
All departments scored below 40/ 100 on the performance measurement index used in the study.
Ms. Shalini from DPAR then said that the floor would be open for the audience to give inputs on what needs to be done for proactive disclosure. Some of the suggestions from the audience were: work orders and sanction plans need to be part of 4(1) disclosure; an RTI portal needs to be developed; the portals need to be updated and links need to work. Some people also spoke about the need to focus on 4(1c) and 4(1d). Many individual complaints were received regarding the delays in RTI application processing.
Based on my exposure to RTI related issues at IT for Change, I raised two issues:
a. Usually, on departmental websites, data tends to be organised from the point of view of the administrator and not of the citizen user. It is important for information presented on websites, to be appropriately re-grouped, classified, labelled and simplified; keeping in mind the needs of the users. For example, on civic agency websites, users are more likely to find a ward/panchayat wise grouping of information more useful than a services based classification.
b. The choice of software applications is also a key point for deliberation in proactive disclosure. Information should be uploaded using only open standards like ODF, PDF/A, JPG, OGGetc, which are neutral to the technology platforms of the user.
(For more details on these issues and other aspects pertaining to proactive disclosure, see here)
Mr. Nayak and Ms. Shalini concluded the meeting by thanking everyone for their suggestions. Mr. Nayak said PIOs should stop making excuses for the delays in processing applications. Ms. Shalini gave the civic agencies a deadline of 30 days to comply with the provisions of Section 4(1).
Even six years after the implementation of the RTI Act, civic agencies lag behind where proactive disclosure is concerned.