Obligations of Public Authorities

   Note: This article nor written or neither originally published by IN LIGHT OF LAW, but published here with required modifications and following all the copyright laws.

                                           Author: Shailesh Gandhi & Pralhad Kachare

                                        Taken from: Authentic Interpretation of the Statute

Obligations of Public Authorities

The obligations of public authorities are given under section 4. These are:

(1)        Every public authority shall

(a)          maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated;

  Comment:  Section 4(1) (a) of the RTI Act mandates good governance by providing for information and record management, indexing all files and cataloguing

To make them accessible easily. This has always been a requirement as per the Manual of Office procedures, and is now a statutory requirement. It also mandates the use of Information Technology requiring every public authority to computerize all its records and to upload it so that it can be accessed wherever required. It is a mandate for true e- governance. Failure in maintenance of records is resulting in inefficient working of the government. Inaccessibility of records also encourages corruption as this leads to difficulty in providing service and information to citizens, apart from arbitrary decisions being taken. This section also mandates networking the computers all over the country, to improve the efficiency in government and transparency.

(b)         publish within one hundred and twenty days from the enactment of this Act,-

   Comment: Section 4(1) (b) of the RTI envisages a strategy to carry out the legislative intent of building an informed citizenry by requiring every public authority to upload information in the public domain on a proactive basis. This would lead to transparent functioning of the Public Authorities and also reduce filing of individual applications. The spirit of this provision is to initiate a dialogue between public authorities and citizens. This will ensure further participation leading to informed citizenry which is vital for a participative democracy.

(i)           The particulars of its organization, functions and


(ii)         The powers and duties of its officers and employees;

   Comment: Section 4(1) (b) (i) and (ii) suggest that the functioning and responsibilities of a public authority must be understood along with the powers and functions of its employees. Citizens must be made aware about functions and duties of those involved to ensure clarity. Often, these are not clearly defined and understood even within the departments and there is ambiguity.

(iii)       The procedure followed in the decision making

Process, including channels of supervision and accountability;

(iv)       The norms set by it for the discharge of its functions;

    Comment: The mandate of this clause is that every public authority should proactively disclose the standards by which its performance should be judged. Norms should specify the time within which officers should work and deliver services to citizens.15

    Wherever norms have been specified for the discharge of its functions by any statute or government orders, they should be proactively disclosed, particularly linking them with the decision making processes as detailed earlier.16 All Public Authorities should proactively disclose the following:

a)            Define the services and goods that the particular public authority/office provides directly or indirectly through any other agency/contractor.

b)            Detailing and describing the processes by which the public can access and/or receive the goods and services that they are entitled to, from the public authority/office along with the forms, if any prescribed, for use by both the applicant and the service providing agency. Links to such forms (online), wherever available, should be given.

c)            Describing the conditions, criteria and priorities under which a person becomes eligible for the goods and services, and consequently, the categories of people who are entitled to receive the goods and services.

d)            Defining the quantitative and tangible parameters, (weight, size, frequency etc.,) and timelines, that are applicable to the goods and services that are accessible to the public.

e)            Defining the qualitative and quantitative outcomes that each public authority/office plans to achieve through the goods and services that it was obligated to provide.

f)              Laying down individual responsibility for providing the goods and services (who is responsible for delivery/implementation and who is responsible for supervision).

    Similarly, Act 21 of 2006 in Maharashtra mandates that decision on every file should be taken within 45 days. If these norms were displayed by the departments of Central Government and the State Governments, citizens and officers would know and understand that there is a mandated timeframe which must be adhered to.

(v)         The rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions;

    Comment: Irregularities and malpractices remain unquestioned due to the lack of legal literacy amongst citizens. This clause mandates disclosure at various levels i.e. all Acts, rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records by which the working of Public Authority is carried out. Disclosure of this kind would certainly empower citizens to assess and monitor the working of Public Authorities. It will promote literacy of rules, regulations, procedures and processes among the citizens who are the stakeholders. It could also lead to better compliance with laws and rules by citizens.

(vi)       A statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control;

    Comment: Clause (VI) requires every public authority to disclose statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control with the list of records and files used by its employees for discharging its functions. If such lists are available, citizens can

Choose exactly what information is required from which record or file and hence, precise Right to Information requests can be facilitated. Even within the public authority work would be more efficient.

(vii)     The particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with, or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof;

    Comment: This clause highlights that in a democracy the citizens have rights and duties. Consultation provides them opportunities to participate actively in shaping the Public Authority policies according to their needs. Thus, it engages and places the citizen at the centre of policymaking, not just as target, but also as an agent. The aim is to develop policies and design services that respond to citizens’ needs. Every Public Authority is required to disclose what arrangements are available for contact, public relation, for submission of representations, for consultation and for participation. This helps to ensure that disagreements between government and citizens reduce. Often, major projects are started without adequate information being shared with citizens. This leads to mistrust and agitations and sometimes relevant projects suffer delays and cost escalations. It is far better for government to be transparent, so that various stakeholders move forward in tandem.

(viii)   a statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted as its part or for the purpose of its advice, and as to whether meetings of those boards, councils, committees and other bodies are open to the public, or the minutes of such meetings are accessible for public;

    Comment: Both (vii) and (viii) imply that all departments should discuss with individuals from the public and implement their suggestions to improve their performance and to formulate policies. Also, most of these should be accessible to public. Being

Willing to be transparent will lead to participation and hence better governance.

                                    Existence     of     various     Boards,    Committees    and

Councils are an integral part of the governmental process. Citizens can get valuable insights by knowing objectives of such Boards, Committees, and Councils, their constitution, manner of appointment of members. Members of these committees should be appointed based on their background and interest in a particular field and they should be expected to attend all board meetings. Duties and powers of members of such boards, frequency of meetings, and whether such meetings or minutes of meetings are open to public must be declared. If such Boards, Councils and Committees exercise any supervisory, financial or monitoring function, this should be disclosed in detail. It is desirable that minutes of meetings of such bodies should be displayed.

(ix)       A directory of its officers and employees;

(x)         The monthly remuneration received by each of its

Officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations;

    Comment: The names of officers with their designations email IDs and telephone numbers must be displayed so that citizens can contact them. Citizens have a right to know the actual compensation of public servants, since they are paying the money. Besides if some public servants are living far beyond their salaries, it would be evident to the people and hence under scrutiny.

(xi)       The budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating

The particulars of all plan proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made;

    Comment: This would make the budgeting and expenditures transparent. Social audits could be done by citizens and they would be able to participate and give suggestions on how they would like their money to be spent. Public authorities while disclosing their budgets should undertake the following:

(a)          Keeping in view the technical nature of the government budgets, it is essential that Public Authorities prepare simplified versions of their budgets which can be understood easily by general public and these are placed in public domain. Budgets and their periodic monitoring reports may also be presented in a more user friendly manner through graphs and tables, etc.

(b)         Outcome budget prepared by Public Authorities should be prominently displayed and be used as a basis to identify physical targets planned during the budgetary period and the actual achievement vis-à-vis those targets. A monthly programme implementation calendar method of reporting would be a useful model.

(c)          Funds released to various Public Authorities, their autonomous organizations/statutory organizations/attached offices/Societies/NGOs attached etc. should be put on the website on a quarterly basis and budgets of such authorities may be made accessible through links from the website of the parent Ministry/Department. If a subsidiary or subordinate office does not have a website, then the budgets and expenditure reports of such subsidiary authority should be uploaded on the website of the principal Public Authority.

(d)         Wherever required by law or executive instruction, sector specific allocations and achievements of every department or public authority (where feasible) must be highlighted. For example, budget allocation and target focusing on gender, children, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and religious minorities should be specially highlighted. The sector-wise breakup of these targets and actual outcomes must be given in simplified form to enable all citizens to better understand the budgets of public authorities.

(xii)     The manner of execution of subsidy programmes,

Including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes;

(xiii)   Particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorizations granted by it:

    Comment: If the particulars of recipients of concessions, permits and authorisations were displayed it could reduce ghost beneficiaries and indirectly corruption. Public Authority must describe the activities/programmes/schemes being implemented by them for which subsidy is provided. Information on the nature of subsidy, eligibility criteria for accessing subsidy and designation of officer competent to grant subsidy under various programmes/schemes should be disclosed. The Name of Programme, Application Procedure, Sanction Procedure, Disbursement procedure must also be disclosed along with the timelines. The details of beneficiaries should be displayed proactively, since this could reduce ghost beneficiaries and corruption. Details of recipients of concessions, permits and authorisations should also be displayed. Citizens would monitor these and prevent frauds.

(xiv)   details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form;

   Comment:  This clause serves two purposes; firstly it acts as a means of proactively disclosing the progress made in computerizing information under Section 4(1) (a) of the Right to Information Act in a periodic manner. Secondly, it provides people with clarity about the kinds of electronic information available to them. For example the stocks of ration available with individual fair price shops may not be held by the District Civil Supplies office, but may be available at a subordinate formation.

    All information available with Public Authority in electronic/digital form should by default be considered

For proactive disclosure through digital media. Automated processes for proactive disclosure would certainly reduce the cost of doing this and make the data more reliable and updated.

    Frequently asked questions and frequently occurring problems should be listed on the website of Public Authority. A glossary of frequently used terms can be displayed. Much of the information and data is dynamic. Such information can be updated on a real time basis, preferably as an automated process. If for some reason it is not possible to do so in real time, such information should be updated on a monthly basis, or at the most, quarterly basis. Proper standards and records for such regular updating can also be maintained, and mentioned in the concerned public information disclosure.

(xv)     the particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information, including the working hours of a library or reading room, if maintained for public use;

    Comment: Public Authorities are expected to disclose what facilities are made for citizens to facilitate obtaining access to information and access to library, reading room if any. Working hours, holiday details etc. also should be disclosed.

(xvi)   The names, designations and other particulars of the Public Information Officers;

(xvii) Such other information as may be prescribed; and thereafter update these publications every year;

(c)          publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public;

  Comment:  This imposes responsibility on the Government departments to inform people relevant facts about policy decisions.

(d)         provide reasons for its administrative or quasi judicial decisions to affected persons;

  Comment:  After informing the people about the facts, the reasoning for particular decisions taken, should be displayed. This would aid to keep a check on arbitrary and corrupt decision making. It would enhance trust among citizens for their government.

(2)         It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information suo moto to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.

  Comment: It is more efficient to publish information than to respond to a request. Even when a citizen is unable to access a website, PIOs would be able to give information easily by using the website.

(3)         For the purposes of sub-section (1) all information shall be disseminated widely and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public.

(4)         All materials shall be disseminated taking into consideration the cost effectiveness, local language and the most effective method of communication in that local area and the information should be easily accessible, to the extent possible in electronic format with the Central Public Information Officer, or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, available free or at such cost of the medium or the print cost price as may be prescribed.

 Comment:  For the purposes of sub-sections (3) and (4), “disseminated” means making known or communicating the information to the public through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts, the internet or any other means, including inspection of offices of any public authority.

  Section 4 is the core and guiding framework of the Right to Information Act to ensure good governance. If Public authorities implement this diligently, it would not only reduce Right to Information queries but also dramatically improve their performance. The requirements of Section 4 are almost the same as for an ISO certification, where entire Public Authority processes and practices have to be recorded.

  The Right to Information Act mandates every public authority to publish most information as a legal obligation. Citizens must monitor whether the Public authority is performing as per its declarations/commitments under this suo moto disclosure.

  Primarily, all the information specified above should be made available suo moto by the Public authority, and no Right to Information application or fees are required to access this. Some citizens have taken up the cause of ensuring implementation of this important provision by approaching the offices of the Public authority and demanding inspection of their Section 4 compliance. Most of the generic and public domain information which citizens wish to access are covered under Section 4 and hence, citizens could demand inspection of proactive disclosures made under Section 4.

  In case Section 4 compliance is improper, then a complaint can be filed with:

a)            The Information Commission.

b)            The head of the Public authority - Ministers, Secretaries.

  It is obvious that no exemptions can be claimed for any of the information required to be given Suo moto as per section 4(1) (b)  since it has been specifically mentioned. Parliament has mentioned certain categories of information specifically in Section 8 and 9.

  Section 4(1) (a) envisages putting in place good record management systems, which would normally involve moving

To electronic records. There are a host of problems related to hard data in government offices.

Dissemination of proactive disclosure

The purpose of suo moto disclosures under Section 4 is two– pronged. Firstly, placing all relevant information in public domain on a proactive basis will ensure transparent functioning of the Public Authorities. Secondly, the need for filing individual Right to Information applications will drastically reduce thereby decreasing the burden on officers.

Section 4(4) of the Right to Information Act states that information should be disseminated taking into consideration ‘the most effective method of communication in that local area and the information should be easily accessible’. Given the limited reach and accessibility of internet in India, it is recommended that at village/block level, relevant information should be painted on walls and provided on boards in the local language at prominent public places.

Means, methods or facilitation available to the public which should be adopted for dissemination of information could be:

                Notice Board

                Office Library

                Kiosk in office premises or through web portal

                Through Newspapers, leaflets, brochures, booklets,

                Inspection of records in the offices

                System of issuing of photocopies of documents

                Printed manuals to be made available

                Electronic storage devices

                Website of the Public Authority, e-books, CD, DVD, Open Source Files, Web Drives

                Painting data on the walls of buildings as is being done in some places in the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

                Social Media

                Drama and Shows


                Other means of advertising


                                                Important Decided Cases:

Case: State dispute redressal commission vs. Uttarakhand state information commission:

In this case the court held that under section 4 of RTI act, the public Authority or government department has to provide Information Suo Moto. And also ordered that information should be updated regularly on time.


Case: Aditya Bandopadhyay vs. CBSE &others:

In this case, SC concluded that any student, who has given any examination which is conducted by any of the public authority, can take photocopies of his answer script. One can not demand answer sheet of another student.

Case: Candara bank vs. central information commission

In this case the court decided that the obligation in section 4 of RTI is Mandatory and it must be performed.


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