Transparency is a fundamental requirement for the reliability and integrity of public institutions in order to promote public trust and public support. Transparency in public administration guarantees legal assurance and increases the level of legitimacy in decision making process.
- The administration of Kautilya during the Mouryan period was more or less centralized with an effective system of intelligence gathering.
- During the Mughal period, the concept of centralised administration continued with greater vigour. Accountability and transparency in this centralised administration were conspicuous by their absence.
- Then came the colonial administration of the British. Here again, the basic format was of a centralized administration. There was a vertically controlled administrative setup with a District Magistrate and Collector as the key figure. The Collector in the eyes of the people was “MaiBap” whose job was to maintain law and order and collect revenue.
- While the administration was efficient, it had hardly any room for being responsive, accountable and transparent. It was not responsive and not citizen-friendly.
- These concepts, however, underwent a sea change in later years with token participation of people at various levels.
- Many administrative innovations were no doubt brought about in various fields like social, economic and technological, but these were mere cosmetic changes and primarily intended to suit the colonial requirements.
Relationship between the transparency and accountability:
- Usually, transparency is considered as a pre-requisite of accountability as well. This is because for an action to be evaluated properly there should be access to all necessary information. If the access is denied, then accountability cannot be proven.
- Accountability and transparency can take different forms, and the relationship between them depends on the extent to which they are designed to support each other.
- Both transparency and accountability are viewed as necessary conditions for good management. This applies in a large variety of settings starting from the individual to organizations.
- In general, it is assumed that the existence of transparency would result in better governance, more accountability and less corruption
- In public services both transparency and accountability are must to ensure good governance. It is evident that transparency is a pre-condition of accountability.
- There is a direct link between transparency and accountability, and both strengthen each other.
- Thus accountability must accompany transparency as if a civil servant is not accountable for his decisions, transparency would not fulfil the purpose.
Importance of accountability with transparency:
- Accountability lead to the obligation of an individual or an organisation (either in the public or the private sectors) to accept responsibility for their activities, and to disclose them in a transparent manner. This includes the responsibility for decision-making processes, money or other entrusted property.
- Accountability result in answerability (the duty of an individual or organisation to answer to their decisions and actions) and punishments in case of malpractice.
- If citizens are to hold their government accountable, they must be able to find out what it is doing.
- High levels of corruption and poor quality of public services, especially in developing countries, enhanced the demand for accountability from the civil society.
- Social accountability has been highly valued to curb corruption, especially in countries with a systematic problem of corruption and weak institutional systems.
Some of the initiatives taken by the Indian Public Administration to ensure transparency in its working include – Right to Information Act, Public Services Bill, Citizens Charters, e-Governance, e-Bhoomi, e-Choupal, e-procurement.
- Right to Information Act – It is the freedom to know the details of the steps and measures taken by the different elements of the system. It can be better called the right of public access to the key information. It induces deep trust in the actions of the system. Whenever the public finds the decisions are forced or manipulated, they can seek the details of the matter.
- Citizens Charters- Citizens Charter Bill 2011 aims at providing rights to citizens for time-bound delivery of goods and services and provide a Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Citizen Charter is a voluntary and written document that spells out the service provider’s efforts taken to focus on their commitment towards fulfilling the needs of the citizens/customers. Check out the detailed information on Citizen’s Charter on the link provided here. Such a bill was previously recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.
- Elimination of Corruption – Lokpal and Lokayuktas aims at reducing corruption by setting up a separate institution of Lokpal at the Central level and Lokayuktas at the State level. These organizations investigate cases of corruption against public servants in the respective Government organizations.
- e-Governance – E-Governance initiatives for providing an accountable administration include a framework for efficient handling of public grievances through the Centralised Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System which is already in place.
About the RTI Act, 2005:
It sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.
It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
- This act was enacted in order to consolidate the fundamental right in the Indian constitution ‘freedom of speech’. Since RTI is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is an implied fundamental right.
- Section 4 of the RTI Act requires suo motu disclosure of information by each public authority.
- Section 8 (1) mentions exemptions against furnishing information under RTI Act.
- Section 8 (2) provides for disclosure of information exempted under Official Secrets Act, 1923 if larger public interest is served.
Genesis of the law
- It was the Supreme Court that had sown the seeds of the RTI Act.
- The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries.
- Their right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech.
- The country saw many demands for an RTI Act; 12 states had enacted their own transparency laws before it was passed as a central legislation and implemented in 2005.
- Before the RTI Act, the Supreme Court advocated “Voters’ right to know antecedents including criminal past of his candidate contesting election for MP or MLA is much more fundamental and basic for survival of democracy.
- Centre amended the RTI Act for the first time since 2005.
- The amendments passed by parliament empowered the central government to frame rules to decide the tenure, salaries and terms of service of all commissioners in the country.
- Repeal of the J&K RTI Act following the reading down of Article 370
- Opening of the Chief Justice of India’s office to RTI
Need for Strong RTI
- The ideal of ‘Government by the people’ makes it necessary that people have access to information on matters of public concern.
- The free flow of information about affairs of Government paves way for debate in public policy and fosters accountability in Government.
- It creates a condition for ‘open governance’ which is a foundation of democracy.”
Supreme Court’s Observations
- Recently Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde called for a “filter” to check “abuse” of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
- Over the years, the Supreme Court has stressed the importance of transparency under RTI at times, and also remarked on its overuse at other times.
Denial of Information
- Supreme Court said that Public Information Officers have evaded the general public from getting the rightful information that they are entitled to
- Section 4 of the Act calls for pro-active and voluntary dissemination of information, but only a few Central and State institutions have published relevant information.
NGOs under RTI
- Supreme Court had declared that NGOs are not beyond the RTI Act.
- This was based on an examination of the question whether NGOs are substantially financed by the government.
- Whether an NGO or body is substantially financed by the government is a question of fact which has to be determined on the facts of each case.
- The spotlight falls of several NGOs that have been getting public money and were not covered under the RTI.
Time Consumed in Replying
- According to estimates, nearly 60-70 lakh RTI applications are filed in India every year.
- The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties.
- The Supreme Court had ordered disclosure of the requisite information.
Personal and Public
- Various public authorities have denied information on cases/inquiries going on against government officials.
- The other problem has been persisting vacancies in the State and Central Information Commissions.
- State governments must follow the Rajasthan government’s initiative of Jan Soochna portal, which aims to make people, including the marginalised sections, a part of the governance process.
- Centre and States must expedite filling up the vacancies in the State and Central Information Commissions.
- Public authorities must be advised to provide for greater voluntary dissemination on government portals, which should ease their load.
Lokpal Act of 2013:
- The Act allows setting up of anti-corruption ombudsman called Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta at the State-level.
- Composition: The Lokpal will consist of a chairperson and a maximum of eight members.
- Applicability: The Lokpal will cover all categories of public servants, including the Prime Minister. But the armed forces do not come under the ambit of Lokpal.
- The Act also incorporates provisions for attachment and confiscation of property acquired by corrupt means, even while the prosecution is pending.
- The States will have to institute Lokayukta within one year of the commencement of the Act.
- The Act also ensures that public servants who act as whistleblowers are protected.
- The Lokpal will have the power of superintendence and direction over any investigation agency including CBI for cases referred to them by the ombudsman.
- As per the Act, the Lokpal can summon or question any public servant if there exists a prima facie case against the person, even before an investigation agency (such as vigilance or CBI) has begun the probe. Any officer of the CBI investigating a case referred to it by the Lokpal, shall not be transferred without the approval of the Lokpal.
- An investigation must be completed within six months. However, the Lokpal or Lokayukta may allow extensions of six months at a time provided the reasons for the need of such extensions are given in writing.
- Special courts will be instituted to conduct trials on cases referred by Lokpal.
Ambit of the Lokpal:
- For a wide range of public servants from the PM, ministers and MPs, to groups A, B, C and D employees of the central government various rules are in place.
- If a complaint is filed against the PM, the Act says, “Lokpal shall inquire or cause an inquiry to be conducted into any matter involved in, or arising from, or connected with, any allegation of corruption made in a complaint”.
- However, certain conditions will apply. The Act does not allow a Lokpal inquiry if the allegation against the PM relates to international relations, external and internal security, public order, atomic energy and space.
- Also, complaints against the PM are not to be probed unless the full Lokpal bench considers the initiation of an inquiry and at least two-thirds of the members approve it.
- Such an inquiry against the Prime Minister (if conducted) is to be held in camera and if the Lokpal comes to the conclusion that the complaint deserves to be dismissed, the records of the inquiry are not to be published or made available to anyone.
Lokpal itself is also subjected to the Law:
- The Act also includes the Lokpal’s own members under the definition of “public servant”.
- The Chairperson, Members, officers and other employees of the Lokpal shall be deemed, when acting or purporting to act in pursuance of any of the provisions of this Act to be public servants.
- It shall apply to public servants in and outside India.
- It clarifies that a complaint under this Act shall only relate to a period during which the public servant was holding or serving in that capacity.
Lokpal (Complaint) Rules, 2020:
- The notification, under Section 59 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, lays down the rules called the Lokpal (Complaint) Rules, 2020.
- According to the complaint forms, published as part of the notification, a complainant has to give a valid proof of identity, as specified therein.
- Foreign nationals can also lodge complaints. Only a copy of their passports will be accepted as proof of identity.
- The complaint can be filed electronically, by post or in person. In case the complaint is filed electronically, its hard copy has to be submitted to the Lokpal within 15 days.
- No complaints can be filed against a public servant under the Army Act, Navy Act, Air Force Act and the Coast Guard Act.
- A complaint may ordinarily be made in English, provided that the Lokpal may also entertain a complaint in any of the languages referred to in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution.
- Apart from the details of the accused official(s), allegation and the evidence relied upon, the complainant or the authorised signatory will also have to submit an affidavit.
- Registration/incorporation certificate of the organisation, on whose behalf the complaint is made and copy of authorisation certificate in favour of the signatory, if the complaint is on behalf of a board, body, corporation, company, limited liability partnership, authority, society, association of persons or trusts, has to be furnished.
- The Lokpal bench will decide the complaint in the first instance at the admission stage. The Lokpal may seek other details or affidavit, if necessary.
- The identity of the complainant or the accused official will be protected by the Lokpal till the conclusion of inquiry or investigation. However, the protection will not be applicable in cases where the complainant herself reveals her identity to any other office or authority while making the complaint to Lokpal.
- The complaints, whose contents are illegible, vague or ambiguous, which are trivial or frivolous, do not contain any allegation, are not filed within the limitation period of seven years, or are pending before any other court, tribunal or authority, will have to be disposed of within 30 days.
- Electoral Bond is a financial instrument for making donations to political parties.
- The bonds are issued in multiples of Rs. 1,000, Rs. 10,000, Rs. 1 lakh, Rs. 10 lakh and Rs. 1 crore without any maximum limit.
- State Bank of India is authorised to issue and encash these bonds, which are valid for fifteen days from the date of issuance.
- These bonds are redeemable in the designated account of a registered political party.
- The bonds are available for purchase by any person (who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India) for a period of ten days each in the months of January, April, July and October as may be specified by the Central Government.
- A person being an individual can buy bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals.
- Donor’s name is not mentioned on the bond.