You’re well within your rights to ask how the Union government rates the performance of its ministries. But try asking, and chances are you will come up against a brick wall.
Perhaps it’s embarrassed at their poor showing, or just cussedly bureaucratic, but for 18 months, the government has pulled every trick in the book to hide details of its ministry report cards sought by HT under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
In 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh started a project to evaluate the performance of central ministries on an annual basis with a stated intention to make the results public in June every year. It carried out the evaluations, but the outcome was never revealed.
In April this year, the Central Information Commission told the cabinet secretariat on an appeal filed by HT that the report cards could not be a secret under the RTI law and ordered them to be made public within a fortnight.
Four months later, the government is yet to comply with the CIC directive.
When HT filed a fresh RTI application in July to ascertain why the government hadn’t released the information after the CIC orders, the cabinet secretariat — which reports directly to the PM — came up with a new excuse.
GS Panwar, under secretary at the cabinet secretariat, claimed that the government had asked the CIC to reconsider its decision. “The secretariat is yet to hear further from the commission,” Panwar said, implying that the government would wait for as long as it takes for a response before acting on the directive.
“This is babugiri at its worst... It is clearly a delaying tactic of the kind that the Indian bureaucracy is notorious for,” remarked RTI activist Lokesh Batra.
Government sources confirmed to HT that this was the cabinet secretariat’s strategy.
“I am told that the government has decided to keep the report cards a secret,” a senior government functionary familiar with the subject said.
The cabinet secretariat’s three-page letter to the CIC repeated the arguments that the commission had already rejected during the hearing in April. One sentence, however, summed up the government’s greatest fear. “It (releasing report card) could also lead to erroneous impression about the performance of different departments based on incomplete facts,” cabinet secretariat’s director Jugnu Gupta said in the letter.
Of course, there is no provision in the RTI Act for the CIC to reconsider its decision.
The government’s RTI guide concedes that CIC decisions are “binding” and have to be implemented by the public authority concerned. If a public authority doesn’t agree with the CIC’s interpretation, there is no other option but to file a writ petition in the high court.