HYDERABAD: Andhra Pradesh was one of the first states in the country to make government orders public, but now under the shadow of the Telangana agitation, the state has stopped sharing certain documents, especially GOs that are related to the current phase of the agitation. On Wednesday, October 5, the home department issued four GOs sanctioning a collective budget of Rs 44 crore for additional bandobast and also to purchase CCTV cameras for HC in view of the ‘T’ agitation. But each of these orders are marked as confidential. In the past one month alone, the department has issued 12 such GOs related to the stir that have not been made public.
The four GOs have been put up on government website (goir.ap.gov.in) and have abstracts stating that the funds were being sanctioned under the non-plan budget (2011-12 ) for “additional expenses on police bandobast in view of T stir” . But the abstract contained no details on what the funds were being used and the document containing the full GO appears blank with just “Confidential” written on top. Transparency of GOs demanded
In other GOs, even the abstracts were marked as confidential and hence not available for the public.
Miffed with the department’s reluctance to share information on expenditure to control the agitation, RTI activists from the region are now moving the state Information Commission to get full copies of these GOs. They are also demanding that the Information Commission bar the government from issuing such confidential GOs. Activists said that about 75% of the GOs issued by the state government, including many from the home department, in the past two years regarding the Telangana agitation have routinely been marked as confidential.
While police officials maintain that the budget is mainly towards food and lodging expenses of 30 companies (100 personnel in each company ) of paramilitary forces, activists alleged that the GOs are tagged confidential as they could contain `sensitive’ information on budget spent on machinery purchased for crowd control. “Unless the information is exempted under the provisions of the RTI Act, the state government has no right to mark GOs as confidential especially when people from the region are participating in a mass agitation. The government should be more transparent about what the tax payers money is being spent on,” said Rakesh Reddy Dubuddu, an RTI activist from the city.
Officials of the home department , however, stated that they have not made any conscious effort to hide any document that is related to the agitation . P Gautam Kumar, principal secretary, home department said that he had not marked any GO as confidential after he took charge. “I could have signed on some GOs which are marked as confidential in the drafting stage but I have not marked any GO as confidential. But the matter will be looked into and necessary measures will be taken,” said Kumar.
The RTI activists rued that tagging some GOs as confidential is a rampant practice in all government departments. Even GOs that are not related to the agitation get hidden from public, they said. “Two years ago we had written a letter to the then chief secretary to ask all departments not to mark GOs as confidential. While we were able to get the orders issued the practice is increasing being followed now,” said Dubbudu. Sources in the secretariat said that non gazetted officers who draft the GOs or lower rung gazetted officers who go through the draft can also mark the documents as confidential. “If you bribe one of the lower rung officials you can issue a GO under the confidential tag,” a source said.
Given the prevailing ‘T’ uncertainty in the state, the government needs to steer clear of any ambiguity as it may only lead to more trouble. The government is playing with fire by keeping government orders related to the Telangana agitation confidential as it might flare up sentiments in the region that is already on the boil. Transparency in records would not only help people understand how the government is managing the agitation, it would also ensure that no government move is misinterpreted. [Times of India]