HC notice on PIL seeking Assembly database in public

Gujarat HC issues notice to state on PIL to bring Assembly database in public domain

The petitioners have argued that they have filed the PIL in the spirit of democracy, transparency, accountability and constitutional guarantee for availability of information

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Gujarat High Court on Monday issued notice to the state government on a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to make state Assembly proceedings, debates and other records on its website accessible to all. Gujarat is one of the few states that doesn't live telecast the Assembly sessions or even keeps any record in public domain. The PIL has highlighted that although the assembly's website purports to provide information on the debates, the "database has not been updated since 2002."

A division bench of justices J B Pardiwala and Ilesh J Vora issued notice to Gujarat Legislative Assembly Secretariat on the PIL filed by Neeta Hardikar and Siddarth Pathak. Hardikar is based out of Devgadh Baria in Dahod district where she works on tribal health, rights and local self-governance district while Pathak is a retired professor of Saurashtra University at Rajkot where he taught ecology and Environmental Science and researched on environmental issues.

The PIL seeks disclose on Assembly's website information relating to the proceedings, live and old telecast and transcripts, the papers to be laid, Private Member’s Business, Zero-hour, list of question and their answers, text of debates; text of legislations (including subordinate legislations) as introduced, passed, pending, assented, lapsed, withdrawn and negatived by the Assembly; Information on the committees of the Assembly (House Committees) summary of their work and reports prepared by them; the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by the assembly for discharging its functions, and copy of documents that are held by it or under its control; which at present is not disclosed proactively on the website of Gujarat Legislative Assembly."

The petitioners have argued that they have filed the PIL "in the spirit of democracy, transparency, accountability, constitutional guarantee for availability of information and the mandate under the Right to Information Act for the citizens of India and residents of Gujarat." Invoking Right to Information Act, 2005, the petition says that the act requires the public authority to disclose details of procedure followed in the decision making process, channels of supervision and accountability, norms set by it for the discharge of its functions, the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, among others.

It says that unavailability of such information "violates democratic and constitutional rights of the people of Gujarat to view and understand the work undertaken by their elected representatives. Further such non-disclosure also violates statutory obligation cast upon the respondent under Right to Information Act." It also cites other state assemblies like  Kerala, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar which provide information related to the house as required under RTI act.