According to a new rule by the Central Information Commission, Ministers in the Union and state cabinets are ‘public authorities’ liable to answer public questions addressed to them under the Right to Information Act.
This directive that ministers are answerable under the RTI Act will mean that people can directly send questions to a minister by filing an RTI application which will be answered by a public information officer in his office.
“The Commission strongly recommends the Centre and States to provide necessary support to each minister, including designating some officers, or appointing as Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities,” Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu held in his order.
“The probable claim that Cabinet minister does not have the necessary infrastructure to support the applicability of the RTI Act in as much as, the minister is a singular person office; hence cannot be held as ‘Public Authority’ is not tenable,” he held in a detailed order.
The Information Commissioner directed that ‘oath of secrecy’ be replaced with ‘oath of transparency’ so that the minister will respect the right to information of the citizen, which was passed by the Parliament and considered as fundamental right intrinsic in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and be answerable/accountable to the citizens.
Citing Ramayana, Acharyulu said, “It is borne by epics that Emperor Maryada Purushottam Shri Ram used to have a bell in front of his palace, and whoever rings it he could come out of his residence to meet the citizen and hear him, reflecting grievance redressal mechanism in Ram Rajya.”
“It is pitiful that a citizen has to file a RTI request to know the timings and process of meeting their chosen minister, which should have been ordinarily provided on their own,” he said, adding that such information should have been disclosed voluntarily under section 4(1)(b).
He said if there was no such facility of meeting, the minister’s office should declare that ‘there is no such facility’.