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It is a Minister’s duty to meet people

It is a Minister’s duty to meet people
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A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy or perhaps both”, says James...

A Minister can publish dates of his meeting people in the coming month or fortnight, in a schedule as per his choice. It is the democratic right of voters to meet him and also it’s his duty to meet voters which will go a long way in achieving the objectives of good governance through transparency as envisaged by the RTI Act.

Being an elected public representative, the Minister has a democratic duty to meet the common people and, thus, citizens have a corresponding right to meet him, with, of course, certain limitations so that it will not lead to chaos or obstruct his duties. Instead of leaving it to the individual discretion, the law should mandate the transparency including the information about facilitating the ‘meeting’ with people

“A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy or perhaps both”, says James Madison, a political theorist and American statesman who served as the fourth President of United States (1809-17). This philosopher also said: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

If a democratically elected Minister does not provide time at least once in a month to meet his own voters and listens to their concern, there is no meaning to representative democracy. N Yethiraja Rao, a Minister in N T Ramarao’s Cabinet during 1984-89, used to carry two suitcases with him.

When asked why two, he opened one containing nothing but ‘representations” of village voters. He never threw them out or left in the guest houses, but used to address the officers and also visit public offices in Mandal, District and State Headquarters to resolve those grievances, besides giving feedback after meeting each of those who gave representations.

The admirable democratic quality of this people’s representative was that he met each person twice; once to receive his representation and, second, to give result he secured. Its effect is obvious, he was elected seven times continuously, his wife and son also once each, from Chennur Assembly Constituency in Warangal district in Telangana.

Being accessible to people is an essential representative character of democracy. Voter has a right to meet his representative, who has a corresponding duty. In a mature democracy, the people will reject and defeat a minister/legislator, who does not inform the means to meet his people.

One voter Hemanth sought to know from the additional private secretary of Minister for Law and Justice, “Whether any time is scheduled for common people to meet the Cabinet Minister and Minister of State in the Minister’s office in the Mantraalay (Secretariat)? If yes, please inform the timing of meeting the minister, both in English and Hindi.” He claimed that he belonged to below the poverty line and hence the information could be given free of cost.

The PIO of Ministry of Law and Justice replied citing information sent by the office of the Hon’ble Minister, that no specific time was given for general public to meet the Minister. However, as and when requests are received appointments are given subject to the convenience of Minister. There is no order in first appeal. He approached this Commission.

The appellant wanted information from the Minister’s office. It is about the process of meeting the Minister. Appellant approached the office of Minister through RTI to know either general time of meeting or the procedure to have appointment as he could find any means for that.

It is borne by epics that Emperor Maryada Purushottam Shri Ram used to have a bell in front of his palace, and whenever one rings it, he would come out of his residence to meet the citizen and hear him, reflecting grievance redressal mechanism in Ram Rajya. The history is replete with stories and Indian forts have built-in durbar halls where Emperors of Mughals, Rajputs and others used to meet the people to hear their submissions at a stipulated hour.

Those are all dictatorial regimes. In a democratic governance also, people heard and saw that some of Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers and Ministers held janata darbars (public meetings) to receive people’s representations/complaints etc in the open. To meet or not, when and how to, etc are to be processed and informed by the Minister concerned, as that is totally prerogative of the Minister. Thus it may not be mandatory to have a fixed or prescribed timing for meeting the general public.

Meeting by appointment is also difficult to be regulated or fixed with time schedules. Being an elected public representative, the Minister has a democratic duty to meet the common people and, thus, citizens have a corresponding right to meet him, with, of course, certain limitations so that it will not lead to chaos or obstruct his duties.

Subject to availability and convenience, a Minister owes a moral and democratic responsibility to meet his voters or people in the constituency. It will be in fitness of democratic requirements that every Minister makes it a regular practice once or twice or thrice in a week or month at any frequency of his choice, that he/she will be made available for meeting the people at a scheduled hour for a better people-oriented decision-making or governance or hearing the grievances of public.

Or, the Minister can publish dates of his meeting in the coming month or fortnight, in a schedule as per his choice. It is the democratic right of voters to meet him and also it’s his duty to meet voters which will go a long way in achieving the objectives of good governance through transparency as envisaged by the RTI Act.

Extending logically, this duty includes a genuine responsibility of the office of the Minister for Law & Justice/Minister of State (not the Ministry) to inform the people when they could meet him. This is a facility that they are expected to provide to the people who elected the Ministers. The information about such facility should be disclosed voluntarily by the office of Minister under Section 4(1)(b) within 120 days from the date of commencement of law. If there is no such facility of meeting, the Minister’s office should declare that “there is no such facility” in a particular week/ fortnight/month/year, as required under the Section.

Isn’t a Minister obliged to make it easy for the citizens to meet through process of obtaining an appointment also? Why not the process or means of seeking appointment be announced by the officer of the Minister? For this, they can use the Information Communication Technology and organisations like NIC, because the people have right to appointment with the Minister. Section 4(1)(b)(xv) says: ‘the particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information….’

It is pitiful that a citizen has to file a RTI request to know the timings and process of meeting their chosen minister, which should have been ordinarily provided on their own. It is difficult for the PIO of the Ministry of Law, or Department of Legal Affairs to know and inform the people as to how and when the Cabinet Minister and Minister of State for Law will meet or what are the schedules or plans or processes for such meetings.

It is not reasonable to ask the PIO of Ministry/Department of Legal Affairs to give that information. The Minister or his office alone is the appropriate authority to decide and inform about the facility of meeting the Minister with details like days and timings, and also about the process of seeking appointment.

No party lags behind in promising the people/voters that they will be within the reach or they will serve better etc. It is their moral duty to keep their promises he made and the programmes forming part of manifesto of the political party. In a nation whose motto is ‘Satyamev jayathe,’ the Ministers under the leadership of the Prime Minister and respective Chief Ministers, have a moral responsibility to realise their promises truthfully.

It needs no mention that in a welfare state, a Minister is a key functionary being in charge of a portfolio, or group of departments in a ministry. Instead of leaving it to the individual discretion, the law should mandate the transparency including the information about facilitating the ‘meeting’ with people. (From the decision in Hemanth Dhage v Ministry of Legal Affairs, CIC/SA/A/2015/000435 dated 12th March 2016)

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