Noting that voluntary disclosures of information have been “below par”, a CIC-constituted panel has said that details of domestic and foreign visits of Union ministers should be proactively disclosed and kept updated. The committee said this against the backdrop of the PMO not disclosing information about expenses incurred on foreign visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has been refusing to disclose information related to expenses incurred on Modi’s foreign visits, citing various excuses such as the records that are sought for being “vague”. The committee of former Chief Information Commissioner A N Tiwari and Information Commissioner M M Ansari, constituted by the CIC gave its report on “Transparency Audit: Towards An Open and Accountable Government”.
The panel referred to the circular issued by the Ministry of Personnel dated September 11, 2012 where it asked all departments to proactively disclose expenses incurred on the foreign and domestic visits of their respective ministers. “These disclosures should be updated once every quarter,” the committee said in its report asking the government to also disclose other details such as places visited and the institutions/individual interacted, period, number and the names of the members in the official delegation, mode of conveyance, travel expenses and source of funding and outcome of the visit.
It said a democratic government keen on empowering the people and delivering to them goods and services speedily and efficiently, cannot allow walls of secrecy to separate them from the very people they serve. “Transparency brings the government closer to its people-– a closeness which underpins good governance. In spite of repeated directions to the public authorities, the results on account of voluntary disclosures have been below par,” the committee observed.
It said quite large numbers of wholly avoidable RTI petitions by citizens for information, which should even otherwise be openly available, are still being filed. “One cardinal aspect of the RTI i.e. timely furnishing of quality information to the citizen, became difficult to be adhered to, while the cost for disclosing information, at all levels, kept increasing,” it said.
The refusals to part with the information are being made even though Central Information Commission, in an order, had directed the Cabinet Secretariat to make public expenses incurred on the travel of ministers and VVIPs because of large public interest in the matter.
“We have been noticing a lot of public interest in the visit of such high dignitaries as the President, the Vice-President and the Prime Minister of India. Quite often, one comes across RTI applications seeking similar information about these visits,” Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra had said.
Following the orders of the CIC, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had started the practice of making public on the official website details of expenses incurred on his visits as well as on the visits undertaken by the Ministers. Even DOPT had issued the circular asking all ministries to proactively disclose these details.
Complying with the mandatory provisions of suo-motu disclosure under the transparency law, the PMO under Manmohan Singh has placed in public that a sum of over Rs 642 crore was incurred on his air travels abroad between 2004 and 2013.