The Supreme Court, while dealing with a Public Interest Litigation seeking proactive or suo motu web-based disclosure of information as per the mandate of Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, has held that the purpose and object of the statute will be accomplished only if the principle of accountability governs the relationship between ‘right holders’ and ‘duty bearers’.

The three judge Bench of CJI D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice P.S. Narasimha and Justice J.B. Pardiwala held:

“Power and accountability go hand in hand. While declaring that all citizens shall have the ‘right to information’ under Section 3 of the Act, the co-relative ‘duty’ in the form of obligation of public authorities is recognized in Section 4. The core of the right created under Section 3 in reality rests on the duty to perform statutory obligations. Public accountability is a crucial feature that governs the relationship between ‘duty bearers’ and ‘right holders”.

In the PIL filed by the RTI Activist, Advocate and Environmentalist, Kishan Chand Jain, it was submitted to the Court that the laudable purpose of suo motu disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act is to place a large amount of information in the public domain on a proactive basis to make the functioning of the public authorities more transparent and also to substantially reduce the need for individual RTI applications.

Relying on the 12th Convention of the Central Information Commission, Jain submitted that "Suo motu disclosures of information are the heart and soul of the RTI Act". Jain also stated that implementation of the requirements of Section 4(1)(a) of the Act should be taken up in a mission mode with specific timelines given to all Public Authorities.

"Since the celebrated RTI Act is an acknowledged charter of the people’s right to information, it is aimed to radically alter the governance landscape. It's S. 4(1)(b) read with sub-sections (2) and (3) of S. 4 enjoin for the suo motu disclosure of information which is the focal point at which most disclosure-related efforts of the public authorities must converse", read the PIL.

Jain in his PIL had further relied on the Judicial Dicta in the case of Anjali Bhardwaj v. Union of India & Ors., (2019) 18 SCC 246 which stated that "Section 4 puts an obligation on every public authority to provide information. In order to facilitate the right to information, various obligations are cast upon the public authorities under this Section. A perusal of Section 4 listing these obligations is itself a clear message that it is for the purpose of facilitating the right to information to the citizens.........."

The Court found it evident that “the system needs the concerned authority’s complete attention, followed by strict and continuous monitoring. It is in this context that the functioning and duties of the Central and State Information Commissions assume utmost importance.”

The Supreme Court directed that the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions shall continuously monitor the implementation of the mandate of Section 4 of the Act as also prescribed by the Department of Personnel and Training in its Guidelines and Memorandums issued from time to time. For this purpose, the Commissioners were entitled to issue recommendations under sub Section (5) of Section 25 to public authorities for taking necessary steps for complying with the provisions of the Act.

Cause Title: Kishan Chand Jain v. Union of India & Ors.

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