From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : RTI
Mains level : Paper 2- RTI and issue of transparency
The article discusses the issue of growing lack of transparency in the functioning of government.
Issues with Transparent Governance in India
1) Electoral bond
- They were introduced in February 2017— they allowed anonymous donations to political parties and, therefore, protected the privacy of the donors.
- The Election Commission of India (ECI) criticised the opacity of this financial mechanism.
- The ECI told the government that this arrangement would prevent the state from ascertaining whether a political party has taken any donation in violation of provisions under Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act.
- Section 29B prohibits the political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources.
- Electoral bonds also made it impossible to check whether a company was giving to parties more than what the Companies Act (2013) permitted, that is 7.5 per cent of the net average profit of the three preceding financial years.
2) Sealed envelopes
- Sealed envelope has become a modus operandi in several Indian institutions, including the Supreme Court (SC).
- In the case of political funding by electoral bonds or otherwise, a three-judge bench in 2019 directed political parties to submit the details of donations received to the ECI in sealed cover.
- The Assam administration had to show the progress it was making in the implementation of the National Register of Citizens by submitting reports in sealed covers.
3) Undermining RTI
(A) Reluctance to fill vacancies
- The government did not appoint a Chief Information Commissioner for a year after the incumbent retired in August 2014.
- Similaryly, government did not fill vacant information commissioner posts in the Central Information Commission (CIC) between 2016 and 2018.
- The backlog of pending appeals had reached 30,000 cases in late 2019 as the CIC has become a rather dysfunctional body.
(B) Government refusing to disclose infromation
- The government refused to disclose information which was previously available under the RTI Act.
- Queries about phone tapping are not responded to anymore.
- In 2016-17, the home and finance ministries rejected close to 15 per cent of the applications they received while the RBI and public sector banks rejected 33 per cent.
- The RBI, for instance, refused to give any information about the decision-making process that led to demonetisation.
(C) Limiting the powers of CIC
- During the 2019 Monsoon Session of Parliament, government amended the RTI Act to limit the power of the CIC.
- The five-year fixed tenure for the Chief Information Commissioner and information commissioners was abolished.
- Their salaries were not fixed any more, but notified separately by the government.
4.Diluting Whisleblower’s Protection Act
- Whistleblowers can now be prosecuted for possessing the documents on which the complaint has been made.
- Issues flagged by them have to be in “public interest”.
- Issues flagged should not be “affecting the sovereignty and integrity of India”, related to “commercial confidence” or “information received in confidence from a foreign government.
5.Issues with statistical information
- The National Statistical Commission and the Chief Statistician of India faced a credibility crisis when the new GDP series was released.
- Similarly, the National Crime Records Bureau has been affected by delays (its 2017 report was released in October 2019) and deletions.
- The National Sample Survey Office has also raised several concerns.
Transparency is not only necessary for maintaining a democratic polity, it is also necessary for making the economy work. Government actions must be informed by this fact.