Constructive public policy sprouts only in sunshine, not darkness #RTI #TechPolicy

Highlights

  • Background: The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) released a new Draft E-Commerce Policy to public consultation on February 23, 2019. This was done with no information provided to the public on the stakeholders involved its formulation or meetings conducted.
  • Lack of any transparency: IFF filed an RTI with the Department of Commerce requesting details of meetings carried out, stakeholders involved and documents related to the process. However, the response received claimed exemptions to providing information under 8(1)(i) under the RTI Act. With this seemingly recurring stance taken without legal justification, the question of transparency, the very intention behind the Act is being raised.

It's meant to be "seek and ye shall find".

The process of a public consultation is undermined if any recommendations that will have wide ranging impact are not proactively disclosed to the public. IFF filed an RTI requesting the following information be provided.

  1. Details of the dates and participants of any meetings and consultations on the Draft E-Commerce Policy.
  2. Copies of the minutes on any meetings and consultations on the Draft E-Commerce Policy.
  3. Details of work and copies of the agreement, contract or office circulars for engagement or authorisation of work of any individual, organisation or entity has been engaged/contracted at any stage to provide services/advice/drafting.
  4. Information on any decisions taken for conducting any public consultation on the Draft E-Commerce Policy.

Disappointingly, the response to the RTI had the CPIO claiming exemption under 8(1)(i) where cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers are exempted from disclosure (Read here for more). Under no circumstance do any of the queries fall within the category of the deliberations of these officers to be deemed cabinet papers. Pertinent information is being refused with no legal basis, creating a cause for concern. While IFF has filed a first appeal challenging the response, this intention to withhold information is largely prevalent. We still await the publication of submission to the draft Personal Data Protection Bill. Similarly, an RTI filed by IFF to MEITY requesting the composition of the Cyber Regulatory Advisory Committee saw a similar lack in the provision of information.

No clarity to the disparity.

The inconsistency in the Government's stance is seen through the publication of stakeholder comments with identifying details in the consultation process of both the Draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules, 2018 and the composition of the National E-Commerce Think Tank to an RTI filed by MediaNama (Read here for more).

The consultation process to both the Draft E-Commerce Bill and the Draft Personal Data Protection Bill is identical to that of the Intermediary's Amendment Rules, involving no confidential information given there is no sensitivity of information. Inspite of an inherent public interest in the disclosure of this information to aid in transparency and inform academics and scholars combined with the obligation on the Government to proactively disclose all relevant facts relating to important policies or decisions affecting general public, we still find ourselves in this situation. There needs to be a higher level of accountability to the callousness in claiming exemptions under the RTI Act.

IFF is regularly filing RTI's and will continue to take the process to its logical conclusion.

  • Response to RTI on Draft E-Commerce Policy [link]