RTI Act also casts a duty upon public authorities, Supreme Court says, mandates proper implementation of Section 4 of the Act

The Supreme Court has directed the Central and state Information Commissioners to continuously monitor the implementation of the mandate of Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Section enumerates obligations of public authorities for suo motu disclosure of certain information.

ON Thursday, the Supreme Court sent out another powerful message to ensure transparency and accountability in India.

The court was dealing with a writ petition by one Kishan Chand Jain, seeking direction to implement the mandate of Section 4 of the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005

The court observed that “Power and accountability go hand in hand.”

The Bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices P.S. Narashima and J.B. Pardiwala held that “While declaring that all citizens shall have the ‘right to information’ under Section 3 of the Act, the co-relative ‘duty’ in the form of obligation of public authorities is recognised in Section 4.”

Section 4 of the RTI Act, casts an obligation on public authorities to suo motu disclose on their website information concerning: (a) maintenance of all public records, duly catalogued and indexed for easy accessibility of the information; (b) publishing particulars of the organisational structure, functions and duties of officers, procedures that are followed for decision-making, salary structure, budget allocation, publication of facts relating to policies and announcements which includes providing reasons for quasi judicial decisions.

The petition submitted that transparency audits were conducted by only 33 percent of public authorities in the last four years.

The petition also submitted that on top of poor implementation of third-party audits, the 33 percent of public authorities that had in fact had their transparency audits conducted, performed badly.

There is clear evidence that quality and quantity of proactive disclosure were not in accordance with Section 4 of the RTI Act, the petition added.

The petition also informed the court that poor implementation of third-party audits was adversely commented upon by the Department of Personnel and Training in its office memorandum of September 14, 2022.

The Bench opined that the system needs the complete attention of the concerned authorities, followed by strict and continuous monitoring.

The core of the right created under Section 3 in reality rests on the duty to perform statutory obligations. Public accountability is a crucial feature that governs the relationship between ‘duty bearers’ and ‘right holders’,” the Bench held.

The Bench also emphasised the role assigned to the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the state information commissions (SICs) under the RTI Act.

The CIC and SICs have a prominent place, having statutory recognition under Chapters III and IV of the Act and their powers and functions are enumerated in detail in Section 18 of the Act. 

We have also noted the special power of ‘monitoring and reporting’ conferred on the Central and state Information Commissioners which must be exercised keeping in mind the purpose and object of the Act, i.e., ‘to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority’,” the Bench highlighted.

The Bench referred to Section 25 of the RTI Act, which mandates for the CIC and SICs to prepare a report on the implementation of the provisions of the Act every year.

Commenting on Section 25, the Bench observed: “Section 25 gloriously integrates ‘the right to information’ of a citizen with the collective responsibility of the government to the legislature under Article 75(3) or 164(2) of the Constitution.” 

The Bench also observed that the CIC and SICs would be entitled to issue recommendations under Section 25(5) of the RTI Act to public authorities for taking necessary steps for complying with the provisions of the Act.

Accordingly, the court directed the CIC and the SICs to continuously monitor the implementation of the mandate of Section 4 of the RTI Act.