New Delhi, Sept. 11: If you can’t beat them, join them.
Extensive use of the Right to Information Act by citizens appears to be forcing the government to reveal some information on its own to pre-empt a barrage of applications.
The Centre today asked all ministers, officials of the rank of joint secretary and above, and the heads of all its departments to “proactively” and “suo motu” (on one’s own) reveal details of their official foreign and domestic tours. The information will be posted on the websites of their ministries or departments every quarter.
Ostensibly, the directive from the department of personnel and training, which the Prime Minister heads, has been spurred by the need for greater transparency in administration. But the official memo the department circulated among all the ministries today hints at more practical reasons too.
“It has been brought to the notice of this department that public authorities are receiving RTI applications frequently asking for details of the official tours undertaken by ministers and other officials,” the memo notes.
This flood of queries about official tours and travel bills has meant several babus having to spend hours trying to collate such information all too frequently.
The memo goes on to cite how the RTI Act requires every public authority to “take steps” to “provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including (the) Internet, so that the public have minimum resort to use the act to obtain information”.
Disclosures will have to be made about all tours since January 1 this year. “The disclosures may be updated once every quarter, starting from 1 July, 2012,” the memo says.
Information to be revealed “proactively may contain” details such as the nature and duration of the tour, places visited, size of the delegation, and the total travel costs. Security and intelligence organisations and the chief vigilance officers of government departments have been exempted.
It isn’t just citizens who have been asking for such information, though. During the past two Parliament sessions, several MPs too have asked ministries for details of foreign travel by their ministers and officials, the sizes of the delegations, the allowances requested and received, and the expenditure incurred.
During the recently concluded session, an MP asked the external affairs ministry for the past three years’ details of foreign travel by all its nearly 4,000 officials. The MP also sought details of the travellers’ cheques issued and any other travel allowances.
South Block officials are still at work trying to gather the information and have promised to put the information on the table of the House in the next session.