‘This will ensure greater transparency in decision-making'

In a significant ruling, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has said reports of all expert committees and commissions, constituted by the government, should be made public to ensure greater transparency in decision-making.

Allowing a petition seeking a copy of a report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), the Commission has rejected the contention of the Public Information Officer (PIO) that the disclosure would adversely affect the economic interests of the nation.

(It issued the directive while hearing the plea of G. Krishnan of Kerala, who sought copies of the summary of the report of the WGEEP, under the chairmanship of Professor Madhav Gadgil, on the Athirappally hydro-electric project in Kerala, reports PTI).

Set up in 2010 by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the WGEEP was mandated to assess the ecological status of the Western Ghats region; demarcate areas required to be notified as ecologically sensitive; and make recommendations for conservation, protection and rejuvenation of the region.

The Commission said Sections 8 and 9 of the Right to Information Act (RTI) only exempted disclosure of information that undermined the country's sovereignty and integrity, security or strategic interests. And it did not agree with the PIO's contention that the disclosure of the report would impact on the “scientific or economic interests of the State.”

Under Section 4 of the Act, it was mandatory to disclose all reports of panels, experts, committees and commissions set up by the government with public funds. If parts of such a report were exempted as per the Act, this should be stated, and such portions could be severed after stating the reasons. “If the entire report relates to the security or strategic interest of India, this should be stated. Such a practice would be in accordance with the provisions of Section 4 of the RTI Act and would result in greater trust in the government and its actions.”

It said there was no provision in the Act that exempted disclosure of a report that had not been finalised or accepted by a public authority.

The Commission said Section 4 was a statutory direction to all public authorities “to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have [a] minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.”

“The government sets up such panels, committees, commissions or groups and selects members whose expertise and wisdom is recognised by it. Significant amounts of public funds are deployed for this purpose in order to address the nation's concerns. Therefore, it is imperative for citizens to know about such reports,” it said.

If such reports were put in the public domain, the Commission said, citizens' views and concerns could be articulated scientifically and reasonably; and in case, the government had reasons to ignore the reports, these should be put before the people logically. Otherwise, citizens would believe that the government's decisions were arbitrary or corrupt.

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