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The Mainstream media has churned out tonnes of information ranging from special pages to opinion polls on completion of 100 days by NDA Government. As expected, most industrialists and analysts have largely appreciated the Government’s efforts to stabilize the economy and nudge growth rate.  It is a fact that NDA Government has the potential to perform better than UPA or any other previous regime.
To ensure that this potential is not frittered away, the Government should focus on two initiatives, which if implemented wholeheartedly, can help NDA usher in sterling governance. The initiatives are: transparency & accountability and a mechanism to ensure that the policies, laws and administrative orders are implemented in letter and spirit by different appendages at various levels right from the PMO to the village panchayat. 
If one were to judge NDA solely on these two parameters, it would have to be clubbed with the UPA, if not rated one or two notches below. 
The Modi Governance at present is the business as usual mode, a fact that can be established by counting the backlog of issues created/left by the UPA. In certain cases, the bureaucracy has aggravated the mess under the NDA. It would, however, be appropriate to remain glued to the two crucial factors in this column.
Let us start with Prime Minister’s website that flaunted Narendra Modi’s “Quest for Transparency” shortly after he assumed charge as PM.
As put by pmindia.gov.in, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi firmly believes that transparency and accountability are the two cornerstones of any pro-people government. Transparency and accountability not only connect the people closer to the government but also make them equal and integral part of the decision making process.”
The website adds: “His strong resolve to transparency backed by the manner in which he put this commitment to practice indicates an era of open, transparent and people- centric government for the people of India.”
This sound like rhetoric as the website has not made a single disclosure under Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This provision mandates maximum disclosure of information on suo moto or proactive basis. This requirement is in addition to the information on over two dozen counts that must be disclosed by the concerned public authority. 
Non-disclosure or frugal disclosure of information by most Government entities under Section 4 has been the bane of governance. 
It is here pertinent to recall Department of Personnel & Training’s (DoPT’s) guidelines that were issued on 15th April 2013. 
As put by the covering letter to the Guidelines, “The quality and quantity of proactive disclosure is not up to the desired level. It was felt that the weak implementation of the Section 4 of the RTI Act is partly due to the fact that certain provisions of this Section have not been fully detailed and, in case of certain other provisions there is need for laying down detailed guidelines. Further there is need to set up a compliance mechanism to ensure that requirements under section 4 of the RTI Act are met.”
Under the guidelines, the list of mandatory disclosure was enlarged from 16 to 25 items. The additions include disclosure of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), information relating to procurements, transfers orders, action taken on recommendations and findings of Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and discretionary and non-discretionary grants. 
The Guidelines say: “The Action Taken Report on the compliance of these guidelines should be sent, along with the URL link, to the DoPT and Central Information Commission soon after the expiry of the initial period of 6 months.”
The Guidelines add: “Each Ministry/ Public Authority should get its proactive disclosure package audited by third party every year. The audit should cover compliance with the proactive disclosure guidelines as well as adequacy of the items included in the package.”
It is highly unlikely that any Department has complied with this stipulation. This reinforces the importance for Modi Government to create an effective mechanism for ensuring that the political executive’s intent is translated into action. More of this later. 
A random check of the websites of different ministries and departments show that there is no standard pattern of disclosures under different provisions of the RTI Act 2005. The Department of Fertilizers uploaded on its RTI link three extremely frugal “Reports under RTI” with the last one being for the period ending June 2006! Most departments are slow in updating the content under RTI button. 
Very few have appointed transparency officials for overseeing implementation of Section 4. Very few disclose the replies to the questions posed by RTI applicants. Of the voluminous information obtained by RTI activists, only a fraction gets into the media as news reports.  
Take now the case of Finance Ministry, which comprises five departments. The Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) and Department of Disinvestment are relatively good at making disclosures. The Department of Expenditure, on the other hand, is found wanting.
What takes the cake is the black-out of mandatory RTI information by the Department of Revenue (DOR) and Department of Financial Services (DFS).  Upon clicking the RTI link to DOR one gets the message: “The requested page could not be found.” And in the case of DFS, one gets the flash: “File or directory not found.”
Such indifference towards compliance with RTI rules reflects the approach towards the media as espoused by Union Minister of Finance, Defence and Corporate Affairs, Arun Jaitley on 29th August at Express Adda, a networking platform for movers and shakers of the society. 
Indian Express, the Adda’s host, quoted NDA whizkid as saying “the media hardly gets to know what the government is doing or about any of its decisions before they are made public.”
Mr. Jaitley continued: “Conventionally, the Indian media had become part of the establishment — aware of what’s going to be decided in the Cabinet, what move is being planned. They could predict a Cabinet or list of Governors days in advance.” 
The Indian Express story adds: That has changed now. And, according to Jaitley, that’s how it should be, “because the fun of the decision is lost otherwise”. Stating that the media doesn’t have too much of an idea what’s happening, he said, “That’s an issue. But that’s how it should be.”
Mr. Jaitley has every right to keep dignified distance form dubious journalists, some of whom served as an extended arm of the UPA. He should not, however, belittle the importance of media as an indispensible interface between the Government and the public. 
Scanty disclosure of decisions by NDA Government has become a fait accompli for the media and the public at large. It apparently does not subscribe to the view that consultations with stakeholders and disclosures of draft policies are cannons of good governance. The Government can bypass media but it should not short-circuit consultation process.
If the media is not kept in the loop, then NDA should be prepared for a deluge of speculative stories, half-baked stories or factually incorrect reporting. A case in point is the alleged rumours about Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s son and the Government’s denial of unspecified rumour. This left the public flummoxed. 
It is thus for the public to judge whether Mr. Jaitley’s stance amounts to NDA Government’s contempt for RTI Act. We would like to give benefit of doubt to Mr. Jaitley by treating his remark as off-the-cuff like the one about his recent observation about “small” incident of rape in Delhi that adversely affected tourism. 
The implementation of RTI Act in letter and spirit across the country should be taken as the test case of Mr. Modi’s commitment to transparency and accountability. It should also serve as pilot study on creating an effective implementation mechanism for other Governmental initiatives.
Enforcement of Government’s decisions and regulations is a biggest challenge. So is the execution of judiciary’s orders such as time-limit for bursting crackers during Diwali, action against overloading of trucks and unconditional, prompt admission of accident victims by hospitals. 
Take the case of the Government’s decision to dispense with affidavits or attestation by gazette officers and accept self-certification of birth certificates, mark-sheets, etc. Though this decision was communicated to all Central and State entities in May 2013, the implementation remains an issue as evidenced by Railway’s refusal to accept self-certification from pensioners. 
According to the agenda item for a meeting of the Standing Committee of Voluntary Agencies (SCOVA), Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions scheduled 5th September 2014, “self certification of income produced by the family pensioners are not accepted in Railways, still certification from Tehsildar is insisted upon by the Railway Divisional officers. Please ensure the implementation of Govt. orders in the Railway Department.”
Take the case of non-compliance of orders issued by statutory authorities such as Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
In May 2014, CVC referred to non-compliance of its order dated 15th May 2003 that was reiterated subsequently twice to reinforce the need for disciplinary authorities to issue appropriately orders in specified format. 
In its latest circular on the subject, CVC observed that “the orders issued in disciplinary matters by disciplinary authorities concerned are sometimes not in the form of a speaking and reasoned order indicating due application of mind.”
It stated: “The Commission would, therefore, again advice al administrative authorities to ensure that officials exercising disciplinary powers conferred under the applicable statutory rules/CDA Departments/Organizations to issue the orders which are self-contained, speaking and reasoned indicating due application of mind by them especially when they differ with the advice/recommendations of CVO or inquiry officer of the Commission as the case may be, giving cogent reasons thereof.”
When disciplinary authorities are delinquent, one can image the State of governance in the country. 
The other day former UPA minister and legal luminary Kapil Sibal raked up the same issue of problems in implementation of Government’s intent. According to a news report, “Sibal revealed that the UPA regime tried to bring in tools of technology to make the police investigation airtight, but investigating agencies refused to co-operate.”  
In November 2013, a news story quoted Punjab additional director general of police (security, law and order, and traffic) Dinkar Gupta stating that “it was a matter of great regret that the field units did not implement the high court directions received from time to time. 
The fact that judiciary has to prod Punjab traffic police to do its job is itself a matter of shame for all those who are at the helm of governance. What is applicable to Punjab is equally applicable to several other States.   
One can come across instances of non-compliance of rules and orders by numerous public authorities in all sectors. As non-compliance has become omnipresent, Mr. Modi must lead by example to usher in compliance culture. He should also shake the system by aggressive mounting of surveillance equipment in the Government setup and putting in place a robust carrot-and-stick framework for all employees right from mantriji to the sanitation worker. 
When the Centre was prodding the States for implementation of RTI Act with effect from 12th October 2005, Mr. Modi, as Gujarat Chief Minister, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, listing the challenges in implementing this law. 
In his letter dated 13th September 2005, Mr. Modi stated: “The success of the Act lies in bringing about the change of mindset of the civil servants who are to implement this Act.”
Mr. Modi, please tell the Nation how much more time the Political Executive and the bureaucracy needs to change their mindset towards governance.
Published by taxindiaonline.com on 4th September 2014
 
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