The Right to Information Act of 2005 allows individuals to seek information from elected governing bodies. However, another facet under Section 4(1)(b) of the Act signifies the disclosure of particulars of organisations, including their functions and duties. This includes details concerning the duties and functions, roles and responsibilities of its officers and employees and the decision-making process of the organisation.
Section 2 of the RTI Act defines public authorities as “any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted by or under the Constitution, any other law made by Parliament, any other law made by the State Legislature and notification issued or order made by the appropriate government.” At the city level, this includes urban local bodies and other authorities of civic governance.
The Act also mandates that information such as the monthly remuneration received by its employees, execution of subsidy programmes, budgetary allocations, and proposed expenditures be made public as well.
However, the Act gives citizens other routes to obtain information through RTIs. So what is the particular importance of this separate section that mandates voluntary disclosure of information by municipal bodies?
Proactive disclosure mandatory
Most clauses of the RTI Act pertain to on-demand disclosure of information. However, “With this, people do not even have to file an RTI application if the authorities adhere to the mandate and voluntarily disclose the information,” says Kathyayini Chamaraj, Executive Trustee of CIVIC Bangalore.
With respect to the parastatals having to voluntarily disclose certain information, Kathyayini deems it as important because a well-informed citizenry can hold the government accountable for its shortcomings.
“Citizens need to know the department’s work, vision, mission, and organisational structure right down to the grassroots level,” says Kathyayini. “The mentioned job description allows citizens to hold the officials liable for a particular job”. The suo moto disclosure of files allows citizens to keep tabs on the department’s activities and how taxpayers’ money is used.
“By knowing what kind of funds are allotted to which department, it is easier for the public to understand where they are falling short and ask why,” says Dr Kodur Venkatesh, an RTI activist. But how proactive are urban local bodies in Bengaluru when it comes to disclosing this vital information?
How has BBMP fared?
The municipal body has furnished details under both sections of the RTI Act. Under Section 4(1)(B), the duties and responsibilities of the Commissioner, the head office and Additional/Joint Commissioners of the eight BBMP zones.
Under the Head Office section, the information is categorised based on the departments functioning under the BBMP, like horticulture, health, revenue, welfare, forest, etc. The furnished information in terms of structure, officials’ powers and duties, set norms for discharge of functions, documents in possession, and monthly remuneration, among others, remain standard across departments.
At the zonal level, the municipal body has details under the headers of administrative, revenue, town planning, horticulture, etc. For instance, for the Yelahanka zone, the details on officers working under the Joint Commissioner, their respective duties, documents or registers (log books, contracts, monthly accounts) in possession, etc. are published.
But for some, particulars like budgetary allocation or the manner of execution for welfare or subsidy schemes are not applicable. Madan Kumar, a first-division assistant, from BBMP’s Administration department, says that zone-wise budgetary details are available only with the Chief Account Officer. He did not have information on when or if those details will be made public.
For the year 2019-20, the Bengaluru Metropolitan Region Development Authority has provided complete details under Section 4(1)(b). Apart from the standard details, the authority has also mentioned the particular facilities that are for public use. The public is also free to contact the officers and officials during office hours and obtain any information required by them.
The 160-page document also contains budgetary allocations for each agency, the manner of execution of subsidy programmes, and particular facilities available to citizens.
“If there are relief of social welfare programmes that people have applied for and their application is rejected, they have the right to know why that happened,” says Kathyayini. One of CIVIC’s demands has a disclosure of the manner of execution for subsidy programmes, the actual expenditures under various budget-heads and scheme-wise break-up of the same.
In a letter, dated December 2020, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board had appraised its intent to publish all the information under S 4(1)(a) and 4(1)(b) on its website. Currently, the website has a comprehensive list of diverse details published under both RTI Sections. While details under Section 4(1)(a) contain indexed files, 65 instances of work allotted to officers or employees have been catalogued under 4(1)(b).
On its website, the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation has painstakingly listed all the required information under the RTI Section. The standard information, like functions, duties and organisational structure, has been categorised under Central office and Depots.
Under the Traffic Department, BMTC has also supplied functions and services undertaken by it, like the issuance of the Student Pass, Senior Citizen passes and preparation of the annual business plan and its execution. There are also norms and standards of performance marked against each of the functions.
Although the categories under which the details are provided are irregular, the civic bodies have declared all relevant details on their websites. However, there is no way of knowing when the information was published or if it has been updated since. “The suo moto disclosure is not updated as things change,” states Kathyayini.
In the case of BBMP, Madan said while it is updated yearly, he does not know the exact date, only that it was in 2021. “The information is updated annually, we do it once we receive all the details from different officials,” he says, adding that he doesn’t foresee any key information being added to the list prior to the BBMP elections in December this year.
A 2015 article that traced the progress of public authorities voluntarily furnishing information found that while some of the information is published, it has not been updated over the years.
“What the departments are doing is they have prepared suo moto disclosures as per Section 4(1)(b) years ago and have put it on the website,” says Kathyayini. “This standard disclosure is devoid of publication or revision dates. Static documents which are not updated in real-time are useless”.
In a letter addressed to Shrivyas HM, Project Director about the information on Mahiti Kanaja, a single window portal that tells residents how public funds are being used, CIVIC made a few demands concerning information disclosure under Section 4(1)(b). They have asked for all departments to constantly update the information provided by them under the section in addition to providing as much granular data at the ward or taluk level as possible.
Echoing Kathyayini, RTI activist Dr Venkatesh says that a separate authority or a body should be tasked with looking into this and ensuring that the information is regularly updated by the concerned bodies.