The Central Information Commission has asked the government to snap the umbilical cord that ties the young transparency watchdog to the personnel and training ministry.
In a set of recommendations submitted to the Centre, the CIC has asked for an independent budget instead of the present practice of allocating funds under the ministry. It has sought similar autonomy for state information commissions from the state personnel departments.
Personnel minister Suresh Pachauri had introduced the RTI Act in Parliament in 2005 and his ministry has held the purse strings since the CIC began work in late 2005.
“Independence of the commissions (central and state) and effective discharge of their duties cannot be guaranteed without granting them financial and administrative autonomy. Urgent steps are required to make the expenditure of the commission as ‘charged’ upon the Consolidated Fund of India,” the CIC has stated.
It has asked for “independent accounts personnel” with powers to write cheques.
The CIC has also recommended that applicants under the Right to Information Act be allowed to submit their Rs 10 fee in the form of a stamp on the letter or postcard carrying the queries.
Under the RTI Act, applicants can now submit the fee at any post office along with the application. Post offices then send them to the government authority concerned.
The CIC has also asked the government to make it mandatory for each ministry or department to set aside a part of its budget to make all documents available online.
“If government departments voluntarily make all their documents available, it will reduce a large volume of requests for information that are bound to choke the information delivery system,” an information commissioner said.
The note also says that several NGOs that receive funds from the government are unable to provide information on how they spend the public money.
“It is important that all government agencies that provide funds to NGOs do so only after ensuring that these organisations have instituted all necessary mechanisms to provide information to the public.”
Public information officers (PIOs), the nodal officials in each ministry or department providing information under the act, must be paid extra for their work, the CIC says.
Currently, IAS officers of the rank of director or joint secretary with other work in their departments also double as PIOs.
The CIC has repeated a demand it had made in a similar note in 2007 — it wants the power of contempt, which is now held only by the judiciary.
It also wants the government to set up a committee made up by the chief information commissioner and the secretaries of the ministries of personnel, home, and information and broadcasting to monitor RTI awareness programmes.
The CIC has recommended that the government set up a Centre for Accountability and Transparency — independent financially and administratively — to research the best practices in creating an “open-access regime”.