Veil of secrecy reigns supreme in Telangana as GOs go missing

Nearly half of over one lakh GOs are not available in the public domain now

In the combined Andhra Pradesh, all GOs were regularly uploaded on the government portal, making them accessible to people.

At a time when there are growing concerns over systematic attempts to undermine the spirit of the Right To Information (RTI) Act in the country, the Telangana government is adding to the woes of the people by making the administration more opaque and inaccessible.

In a shocker, thousands of Government Orders (GOs), issued by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government over the last five years, are missing from the official portal.

Nearly half of over one lakh GOs are not available in the public domain now. Contrary to the normal practice, these GOs have not been uploaded on the government portal and there are no clear answers from officials as to why it was not done.

In the combined Andhra Pradesh, all GOs were regularly uploaded on the government portal, making them accessible to people.

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However, out of over 1.04 lakh GOs issued between June 2, 2014, when the new State came into being and August 15, 2019, nearly 43,460 GOs are missing from the portal.

Violative of RTI Act

The RTI activists argue that concealing the GOs from public view is contrary to the section 4(1) of the Right to Information Act which stipulates that State must publish all relevant documents pertaining to important policies affecting the lives of the people.

When contacted, a senior official made light of the issue, saying that certain GOs which don’t involve ‘public interest’ may not figure in the government portal.

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However, a city-based social activist P Shekhar Rao, who had filed a PIL in the High Court over the issue, told The Federal that the TRS government was trying to “conceal” information pertaining to key projects where huge commissions are involved.

“Be it allocating government lands in districts for construction of TRS offices, sanctioning huge money for irrigation contractors or luxury vehicles for certain officials and ministers, the GOs involving splurging public money are found missing,” Rao said.

Ironically, several GOs pertaining to trivial matters like sanctioning water cans for a particular department or paltry amounts towards telephone allowance for officials were uploaded on the portal while GOs of immense public importance have gone missing, the RTI activists point out.

For instance, a GO was issued in June last year, sanctioning up to one acre of land in each district for the TRS party office, at a throwaway price of ₹100 per square yard. But, the GO is missing from the portal.

Similarly, the orders related to municipal administration policies, land allotments and formation of a committee to study lapses in the education department are not available in the public domain.

When specifically asked about the criteria for keeping certain GOs out of the public domain, the official declined to elaborate on the ground that the government would submit a detailed note to the high court.

While admitting a PIL on the issue, a division bench of the court had earlier this week directed the government to submit its response by February 28.

Political interests

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“The only reason why the officials are putting a veil over the GOs is to safeguard political interests of the ruling party instead of serving the interests of the general public,” Shekhar Rao said, adding that non-availability of all GOs in the public domain was against the principles of natural justice.

The petitioner sought the court’s direction to the government to upload all the missing GOs on the official portal so that people could track the performance of the government.

Failing to upload key decisions of the government was illegal and unconstitutional, the activists argue. “The government must disseminate information related to public welfare in a transparent manner if its actions are indeed meant for public welfare,” Rao said.

The petitioner found fault with officials for not uploading crucial GOs while showing promptness in putting in public domain those GOs that are trivial in nature.

Home, General Administration Department (GAD) and Finance departments account for the highest number of missing GOs.

Out of 7,945 GOs issued by the Home Department during the five year period, a big chunk—5,371 GOs—are missing from the official website. Of 17,061 GOs issued by the GAD, as many as 9,053 have not been uploaded on the portal.

Out of 533 GOs issued by the Tribal Welfare Department, only 39 have been uploaded while the rest are missing.

In sharp contrast, almost all the GOs issued in the combined AP were uploaded on the government portal. For instance, out of 11,522 GOs issued by the Law Department between 2009 and 2013, all, except one, were uploaded on the portal.

Ironically, Telangana issued a GO in April 2017, directing all the departments to update information in their websites in compliance with the guidelines of the Government of India Websites (GIGW).

Section 4 (1) (c) of the RTI Act says the governments must put in public domain all documents pertaining to public policies.

In many departments, all the GOs issued have been classified as internal and not put on the website. As a result, there is no transparency in government departments leading to corruption, said M Padmanabha Reddy, secretary of Forum for Good Governance (FGG), an NGO working in the area of administrative reforms.

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He said that the Municipal Administration Department had issued 167 GOs in 2017 and 101 GOs in 2018 and classified all of them as internal. Similarly, the Transport and Roads and Buildings Department had issued 284 GOs in 2017 and marked all of them as internal.

“This government is feudal in its functioning and does not believe in people’s fundamental right for information,” alleged Congress spokesperson D Sravan Kumar.

S.No. Department Period Released GOs Found

GOs

Missing

GOs

1. Finance 02-06-2014 to

15.08.2019

 

11,995

 

6,845

 

5,150

2. General

Administration

02-06-2014 to

15.08.2019

 

17,061

 

8,008

 

9,053

3. Law 02-06-2014 to

15.08.2019

5,588 4,853 735
4. Health, Medical and Family welfare 02-06-2014 to

15.08.2019

5,119 3,884 1,235
5. Revenue 02-06-2014 to

15.08.2019

4,159 2,631 1,528
6. Agricultural and Co Operation 02-06-2014 to

15.08.2019

4,656 2,620 2,036
7. Home 02-06-2014 to

15.08.2019

7,945 2,574 5,371
8. Panchayat Raj and Rural Development 02-06-2014 to

15.08.2019

4,071 1,822 2,249
9. Transport, Road & Building 02-06-2014 to

15.08.2019

3,137 1,068 2,069
10. Youth advancement, Tourism and Culture 02-06-2014 to

15.08.2019

3,835 1,811 2,024
11. Tribal Welfare 01.01.2018

To

15.08.2019

533 39 494
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