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Insights into Editorial: A milestone in greater transparency, accountability


Insights into Editorial: A milestone in greater transparency, accountability


Context:

The State Government of Rajasthan has recently launched the first-ever public information portal named “Jan Soochna Portal-2019”.

Jan Soochna Portal (JSP) is a remarkable achievement in advancing the Right to Information (RTI).

The portal aims to provide information to the public about government authorities and departments empowering them with access to useful information.

The portal was developed by the government officials in close collaboration with the IT professionals and civil society groups.

 

Jan Soochna Portal-2019:

  • The launch of this portal is in accordance with the true spirit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and ensures compliance with Section 4(2) of the RTI Act that mandates the public authorities to proactively disclose information in the public domain.
  • It initially gives information of about 13 government departments on a single platform.
  • Information related to the availability of food grains & ration shops, implementation of schemes and their beneficiaries, land records and social security pensions, inter alia, will be available on a real-time basis on this platform.
  • Information kiosks in village panchayats and self-service e-Mitra centres in the towns will be established to enable the people to access the information.
  • The Department of Information Technology will serve as the nodal department for the development, operationalization, and maintenance of the JSP.
  • With different sections divided into districts, blocks and panchayats, the portal empowers the common people with access to useful information.
  • It will also help to ensure that the responsibilities are carried out smoothly, the advisory group will be the monitoring agency.
  • Grievance redressal officers will be appointed so that citizens can keep a check upon the accountability aspect of the State government.

 

Right to Information (RTI) Act:

RTI Act was enacted in 2005 with the aim to secure the citizens’ access to information which is under the control of public authorities.

The primary purpose behind this enactment was to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.

Section 4 of the RTI Act requires suo-moto disclosure of information by each public authority.

In 2018, an amendment was proposed to the RTI Act that aimed at giving the Central government the power to fix the tenure and salaries of state and central information commissioners, which are statutorily protected under the RTI Act.

The proposed move may dilute the autonomy and independence of Information Commissioners.

 

           

Draft guidelines should be implemented in Letter and Spirit:

Now, the people would not need to file applications separately under the law to obtain information. They could freely access the information publicly.

  • However, there are huge challenges with regard to maintenance issues and ensuring that there is no let-up in the availability of information.
  • With this in mind, draft guidelines have been framed for the development and maintenance of the JSP.
  • Once implemented, this will ensure that the information system continues uninterrupted.
  • Various departments of the government of Rajasthan, called Line Departments, have been given a set of obligations that they are expected to fulfil.
  • For example, they are expected to ensure digitisation of records. In addition, the Department of Information Technology will serve as the nodal department for the development, operationalisation and maintenance of the JSP.
  • This department has been informed of its obligations, which includes adherence to the norms and standards laid down by a digital dialogue advisory group.
  • To ensure that the responsibilities are carried out, the advisory group will be the monitoring agency.
  • Grievance redressal officers will be appointed so that citizens can make the State government truly accountable.

 

Training for citizens to create awareness:

The digital divide is a serious problem in India. To bridge this gap, utmost care must be taken to ensure that access points are open and free for all.

What is important is that a tremendous amount of information is available on the files of the government of Rajasthan, which till date could only be accessed through the filing of RTI applications.

However, with the use of technology and digitisation of records and information, this information is made freely available on the JSP.

To this extent, there is no need for anyone to take recourse to the RTI Act and await a response. All information can be accessed immediately, free of cost.

The government of Rajasthan has also taken steps to train citizens so that they are aware of the facilities available.

 

Conclusion:

JSP is unique for it ensures both- transparency accompanied by accountability.

The need is to host the JSP in decentralized locations, right down to the municipal ward and panchayat levels.

This will ensure that people have access to welfare schemes, revenue activities such as mining, and other service delivery issues such as health and education.

The portal would eventually turn out to be an effective medium for the digital dialogue with the people as well as a strong instrument for ensuring transparency in governance.

The need of the hour is that other State governments must follow the Rajasthan government’s pioneering initiative and make people, including the marginalized sections, a part of the governance process.