No efforts to collect information by ministries while replying to parliamentary questions

Parliamentary questions by the Members of Parliament (MPs) and the response given by the Government are important parts of any parliamentary proceedings. Questions are asked primarily to elicit information, to ensure accountability, and for exercising a kind of legislative control over executive actions. India’s parliament ordinarily meets in three sessions – Budget, Monsoon and Winter – in a year and hundreds of questions were raised in each session by the members of both the houses.

Answers to questions have to be precise and accurate. The information given through the answers has a high presumption of authenticity and wrong or inaccurate answers can be construed as an attempt to mislead the parliament. However, many of the questions could not be answered by the concerned ministries due to non-availability of information.

But a parliamentary committee, which scrutinizes the assurances, promises, undertakings etc. given by the Ministers, has recently found that information were not furnished by the ministries in the parliament as no efforts are made to collect the same from the field organizations.

In its report submitted to the Rajya Sabha on 29 December last year, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Government Assurances headed by Satish Chandra Misra observed that “while giving reply to a Parliamentary Question, many a times, the Ministry gives the answer that “the information is not centrally maintained in the Ministry” besides giving assurance. When the Committee interacted with the field organizations, in such cases, it observed that the information was very much available with those field organizations but the Ministry had not made any attempt to collect that information from those field organizations.”

Pointing out the basic difference between given reply to an RTI application and replying to parliamentary questions, the Committee said “While replying to RTI query, the Ministry can very well say that the information is not maintained centrally. However, while replying to Parliamentary Question and fulfilling an assurance, they should collect the information from their field organizations and furnish the information to Parliament / Committee.”

The Committee recommended that the Ministries should take note of this while replying to Parliamentary Questions/fulfilling assurances.

This comes as a major embarrassment for the government and shows lack of seriousness on the part of the ministries to make extra efforts to collect the information that are available.

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