Right to Information Act, 2005 came into force in place of The Freedom of Information Act, 2002 serves as the only information source under legal framework for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority in our democracy which guarantees an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments are their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. However, this enactment proved ineffective and time consuming in reaching the Information and often led to conflict and disharmony in matters of public interest. Government has made best efforts to infuse utmost transparency of data by floating robust portals and open data sources to ensure every data reaches the common man. Hence www.india.gov.in has been one of the best web data source accessible to every citizen of our country.
Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India - data.gov.in - is a platform for supporting Open Data initiative of Government of India. The portal is intended to be used by Government of India Ministries/ Departments their organizations to publish datasets, documents, services, tools and applications collected by them for public use. It intends to increase transparency in the functioning of Government and also open avenues for many more innovative uses of Government Data to give different perspective. OPD is a very powerful data source accessible to any common man having 401621 Resources, 8414 Catalogues, 173 Departments, 33894 APIs and 2053 Visualizations managed by 354 Data Officers. As on date, this data portal has already been viewed 28.64 Million times and data downloaded 8.21M. The OGD platform has proved to the most reliable information source during the pandemic when daily and weekly fact sheets in terms of COVID19 statistics as the data and trends are being dynamically updated from information across all States.
The base Open Government Data Platform India is a joint initiative of Government of India and US Government. Open Government Data Platform India is also packaged as a product and made available in 4 (four) major modules, as detailed below, implemented on a single Open Source based Content Framework Solution.
- Data Management System (DMS) - Module for contributing data catalogues by various government agencies for making those available on the front end website after a due approval process through a defined workflow.
- Content Management System (CMS) - Module for managing and updating various functionalities and content types of the Open Government Data Platform India Platform.
- Visitor Relationship Management (VRM) - Module for collating and disseminating viewer feedback on various data catalogues.
- Communities - Module for community users to interact and share their zeal and views with others, who share common interests as that of theirs.
Right to Information Act, 2005 on one hand and direct database access to citizens on the other side, the Information still fail to reach the people as per the original ideology proposed under the transparency of Governance. However OGD has proved a huge success as far as statistics and daily data related to COVID19. It’s time to review both the legal framework and as well as the Official Data portal of the Government so that the constraints are plugged to provide a robust Information Framework to all citizens. This paper explores the need for an integrated Database containing all critical information relevant to both the Elected and the Governed besides infusing transparency and efficiency in governance. For Example, if the Govt of Tamilnadu announces any Cash Benefit Scheme/PDS, it will reach only to those who are targeted under this scheme when the technology is optimized to host Income Assessed Data and PDS data.
LIMITATIONS UNDER RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT
This enactment enabled the Government to show immense transparency in Governments and its affairs of Governance. However, the law still proves ineffective in reaching its objectives to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority due to undermentioned constraints:
- Furnishing information to citizens was stipulated with prescribed time period But queries were either addressed belatedly or transferred knowingly or unintentionally to other departments who are not support to hold such details or information asked for.
- When irrelevant queries are transferred it immediately reaches the closure stage as the query gets either returned for lack of information since they are not concerned or kept unattended without redirecting the same to the sender or source from where it is received within the Government Departments or Ministries. In either instances, the applicant fails to receive the Information called for.
- The concept and definition of Appropriate Authority, Competent Authority or Public Authority is often misinterpreted within the Government departments as queries tend to float in orbits having no destination only to fade away.
- Online portal has ensured speedy disposal of queries posted under RTI Act but again there is no single authority designated by the CIC to handle queries which are specifically assigned for Departments or Ministries. In other words, since Citizens are not expected to know or conversant with the Departments/Ministries under which his query is to be addressed, Government has to devise a single point reference to the user opting for drop-down options for submission of queries. It will help to avoid creation of multiple reference numbers for a single query besides disorientation of queries to multiple desks. The Designated Authority under CIC should be empowered to transmit the query to the specific Department/Ministry and the final reference details should be advised directly to the user through Mail/SMS.
- Obligations of the public authorities specified under Section 4 of the Act has not been published in the prescribed structure and stipulations as mandated under the law for information to citizens. This deprives information about the duties and obligations of all.
- Request for obtaining Information under Section 6 has not been clearly specified as to whether anyone desires to obtain information in writing to be replied back in writing or Information seeking through Online /electronic should be replied through online/mail/RTI portal. On many occasions, information sought even through online is being replied by post or even through direct telephonic confirmations/communications by the Public authority.
- Queries keep forwarded to many departments endlessly for weeks together and ultimately replies to the negative emanated from the authority who finally receives it and is not concerned with the information only to confirm or advise closure or preference of appeal. This practice is permanently adopted by the recipients from whom reply was originally putforth and indulges in transmission of query to some other non-related departments/ministries only to end up closure.
- Exceptions specified under Section 8 of the Act is being purely interpreted mechanically by Desk staff and lower level officials as there is no specific list provided in this enactment for clarity as mentioned under State/Centre/Concurrent list to the Schedule of our Constitution.
- Grounds for rejection to access in certain cases that infringes copyright subsisting in a person other than the State is found ambiguous without any clarity on specific nature/content of information sought for.
- Government failed to publish the status and disposal statistics including appeal of RTI queries received in the public domain as the law is also silent in this regard. There is no transparency is framing standard or specific reasons for rejection or pendency in the status of RTI queries including Complaints against the State and Central Public Information Commissions.
- Appeals and Penalties specified under Section 19 & 20 under the Act is subject to assessment and evaluation of statistics in terms of disposal of queries and the same is not available in public domain.
- Protection of action taken under good faith against from suit, prosecution or legal proceedings stipulated under Section 21 of the Act is ambiguous and incomplete as this proviso is often kept as a shield to protect dereliction of duties and ignorance of legal obligations.
- Bar on Jurisdiction of Courts under Sec 23 of the Act due to remedy under appeal provisions restricts and deprives the citizens to proceed legal course of action when information is denied.
- Monitoring and Reporting procedures stipulated under Sec 25 of the Act is not put in public domain to enhance trust and confidence of RTI mechanism which are vital to its functioning and containing corruption of the Government and their instrumentalities holding accountable to the governed.
CONSTRAINTS IN OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT INFORMATION DATABASE (www.gov.in)
- Information or Data is never dynamically updated by the respective domains as specific statistics are either too obsolete or irrelevant to citizens in general.
- The portal is not user friendly as basic features stipulated are cumbersome and time consuming.
- Latest statistics (provisional) related to Census, Unemployment, Poverty, etc are not available.
- On many occasions outputs generated from the database even through registered credentials of users fail to extract the information as the sheet is kept blank.
- Integration with external links often stays faulty and data collection becomes a huge challenge.
- Ownership of data source is not legally defined and hence it cannot be acceptable before courts.
- Data is not kept dynamic in terms of relevance of critical current affairs.
- Benefits of the data sharing policy in terms of maximising usage, avoiding duplication, maximised integration, ownership information, better decision-making envisaged under National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) - 2012 is not fully materialized.
- External information source linked to this portal do not correctly fetch the desired data.
- Multiplicity of similar data information sources hosted by various Government/Ministries are often inconsistent with the parent source available in this portal.
PRESENT PROPOSAL TO INTRODUCE A NEW “ONE INDIA ONE DATABASE” MODEL
Need to integrate information from various Government Departments/Ministries or Public Authorities to whom replies were sought through RTI so that a link source could be directly provided in a single unified database under OGD platform. This would facilitate quick disposal of queries raised through online and will help to educate the citizens for optimum utilization of the statutory tool seeking information from Government besides exploring the need to
1. The following official databases accessible to citizen should be integrated within the provisions under RTI Act and put in a single database portal under Open Government Data(OGD) platform in India wherein data exchange or link within data sources could be validated making it a fool proof one source utility for citizens.
- RBI Database on Indian Economy
- Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation Dataset
- National Portal of India
- Survey of India
- Aadhaar Metadata
- National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL)
- Election Commission of India
- All Public data contained in National Informatics Centre.(NIC)
- Import Exports Datasets
- Statistics and Reports related to Ministries/Departments under Govt of India and States.
2. Details containing data related to patients suffering from terminal diseases in the country
3. All bank accounts of citizens should be integrated into a single Customer ID so that irrespective of maintaining different accounts in different banks, citizens should be identified with a single banking entity under a single unified ID.
4. All critical sectors which are life-line to the country should be identified under Agriculture, Education, Banking, Health, Economy, Infrastructure, State/Central Government Welfare Schemes for all sectors in population and secondary information data should be hosted in the same portal.
5. Construction Industry includes hosts of labour force who live at the mercy of middlemen, brokers, etc for their livelihood. Government can exercise control and effectively monitor them to ensure no worker is migrating to other States for employment and are employed locally.
The Portal can be developed by engaging the services of all unemployed youth at a paid a fixed to update the population statistics in the common portal in terms of Education, Employment, Skillsets, etc or left open to the citizens to update the information based on unique ids already populated. The user can either chose his PAN or Aadhar and upload information related to his skillsets, etc. Once all information is updated based on the valid government approved Identity credentials, Government can draw Analytics deploying latest technology tools based on statistical evaluation.
BENEFITS OF SINGLE DATABASE DERIVED UNDER A STATUTORY FRAMEWORK:
In view of the foregoing propositions a Single Database Information can derive the following benefits to achieve both on short-term and long term besides ensuring :
- Scientific Planning & Allocation of Budgetary Resources in every Ministry/Department
- Identify employment opportunities and abolish all unorganized labour workforce in the country.
- Reach the welfare schemes or subsidy benefits directly to the targeted beneficiaries.
- Concurrently evaluate the position of stock of essential and non-essential commodities
- Frame a dynamic Export-Import policy on the basis of
- Government can take lead to allocate workforce to private companies or contractors under an organised framework to secure wages and social security benefits.
- Online data updation would simultaneously validate the credentials of every legitimate citizens while evaluating population Census.
- If all multiple bank accounts of a single citizen are integrated and unified under a single customer ID, legitimacy of financial transactions, borrowings, etc could be ensured.
- Citizens having professional qualifications like Engineering, Law, Medicine, Management, etc can be directly deployed for need based sectors which are crucial for economic growth in our country like Recovery of Non-Performing Assets for the Banking sector, fast disposal of long pending cases in various courts, shortage of manpower in critical sectors,
- Deployment of manpower during National Emergencies under Disaster Management can be fully optimized with the availability of information in a single database including relevant Data Analytics, etc
- Help to de-duplicate tasks due to multiplicity or repetition of work of all Government Staff /officials for the same purpose related to updation of MIS data for routine submission.
- Tasks related to submission of replies to millions of queries raised through RTI can be minimized or even nullified if this Single Database contains all critical statistical information related to transparency in Governance. Information shared so far during the last 15 years to various queries can be grouped and categorised in this portal for information of citizens strictly in compliance with the provisos of Right to Information Act, 2005.