The Gujarat High Court issued a notice to the state Assembly secretariat Monday after a public interest litigation (PIL) highlighted the non-availability and non-disclosure of legislative proceedings in the House on its website or in the public domain.
The Right to Information (RTI) Act that lists obligations of public authorities, mandates proactive disclosure of public affairs and thus not complying with it “is a serious violation of the principles of democracy and the constitutional rights of the petitioners”, the PIL submits.
The division bench, headed by Justice J B Pardiwala, issued the notice while hearing the petition filed by Neeta Hardikar, a Dahod resident who mentors tribal area programme team with a focus on health, legal rights, and local self-governance, and Dr Siddharth Pathak, a retired professor of Saurashtra University at Rajkot.
The petitioners, represented by advocate Bandish Soparkar, stated the Gujarat Assembly Secretariat “does not proactively provide comprehensive information to citizens on the functioning of the Legislative Assembly as such”.
This information, as listed by the petitioners, includes information on the proceeding of the Assembly (including live and old telecast and transcripts, the papers to be laid, private member’s business, zero hour, list of question and their answers, the text of debates); text of legislation (including subordinate legislation) as introduced, passed, pending, assented, lapsed, withdrawn and negatived by the Assembly, and information on the committees of the Assembly among other material that is expected to be put in the public domain.
The PIL sought that the Gujarat HC to direct the Assembly secretariat to regularly provide and display this information on its official website in English and Gujarati. It also sought that the Assembly proceedings should be made available for view (live and old telecast) of the public on the website of the Assembly for public perusal, as is already practiced by several state assemblies as well as the Lok Sabha, which has aided greater transparency.
Among other states that update their proceedings online include Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Kerala, Bihar, Delhi, and Rajasthan.
Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the petitioners further submitted, several executive and legislative measures were adopted in the state that includes ordinances issued by the Governor which are expected to be ratified in the upcoming House session. “
Further, important issues regarding the shortfall in receipt of taxation are also before the Assembly to discuss. It is, therefore, submitted that although the petitioners have always had a constitutional and statutory right to know the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, it is all the more important at this point for the petitioners to know and understand in a direct and complete manner in which the Legislative Assembly discusses a variety of issues to recover from the crises. Therefore, the proceedings of the Assembly ought to be webcast and available online for detailed study and understanding,” the petition stated.
Pending admission, hearing, and final disposal, the petitioners also sought that the court directed the authorities to upload as much information as is available with them and make the telecast of the proceedings of the Assembly available on their website for the immediate session of the House.
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