NHA confirms that the consultation period for Draft Implementation Strategy of NDHM is in contravention of Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy
In April 2021, it was brought to SFLC.in’s notice that the National Health Authority (hereinafter “the NHA”) had rolled out consultation on “Draft Implementation Strategy of NDHM” giving a week’s time for stakeholder consultation from March 22nd to March 29th, 2021. SFLC.in had filed a Right to Information Application with the NHA seeking details of the draft implementation strategy.
In our RTI Application, we sought the following information from the NHA:
i) The consultation period for the draft implementation strategy
ii) The draft document itself, i.e. the Draft Implementation Strategy for National Digital Health Mission
iii) List of places where the consultation period was advertised including the social media posts by the NHA on their Twitter, Facebook page about the consultation
iv) List of expert consultations undertaken for the draft document
v) File noting on the draft document and minutes of the meetings of draft document
In its response to the RTI Application, the NHA informed us that the period of public consultation for the Draft Implementation Strategy for National Digital Health Mission was from March 22nd to March 29th, 2021, i.e. a period of one week. In addition, we were provided with a copy of the Draft Implementation Strategy.
The Draft Implementation Strategy along with information about the period of consultation were only put up on the NDHM website at https://ndhm.gov.in/. We were not provided with a clear list of expert consultations undertaken in preparation of the Draft Implementation Strategy. The NHA’s response to our demand for the same was simply stating that, “Various consultations for the National Digital Health Mission have been conducted with participation from end users, various state medical councils…The scope of these consultations covered various aspects of NDHM and its implementation.”
Our demand for file noting on the draft document and minutes of the meetings of the draft document was also refused, citing S.8(1)(i) and S.7(9) of the RTI Act, 2005.
WHY ARE NHA’S GROUNDS FOR NON-DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION FLAWED?
NHA in its response has relied on S.8(1)(i) of the RTI Act, 2005 to deny disclosure of file noting on the draft document and minutes of the meetings pertaining to the draft document.
According to S.8(1)(i), there shall be no obligation to give any citizen “cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers:
Provided that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over.”
The use of this provision to deny information in this case is flawed in light of the Central Information Commission’s decision in Venkatesh Nayak v. Dep't of Personnel & Training (DOPT)  CIC 10696. In this case, it was unequivocally held that in the stages of formulation, disclosure of draft legislation leading to policy is mandatory. Information can be denied under S.8(1)(i) only during the stage of finalisation of the policy framework by the Cabinet Secretariat, and that too only till the time a final decision is taken on the matter. Once a decision regarding the draft is taken and action to be taken thereon is complete, information regarding it cannot be denied.
The NHA’s Draft Implementation Strategy for National Digital Health Mission is still in its formulation stages, thus any information regarding file noting, deliberations, minutes of the meetings, etc. cannot be denied by relying on S.8(1)(i) of the RTI Act, 2005.
NON-COMPLIANCE WITH THE PRE-LEGISLATIVE CONSULTATION POLICY
In 2014, the Ministry of Law and Justice published a Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy (hereinafter “the PLCP”) to be followed by all Government Ministries and Departments to ensure transparency in governance.
Some key points emphasized in the PLCP include:
- proactive publication of proposed legislations both on the internet as well as through other means;
- publication in public domain of brief justification for such legislation, essential elements of the proposed legislation, its financial implications, impact on fundamental rights, etc.;
- keeping such information in the public domain for a minimum period of thirty days so it can be proactively shared with the public;
- placing the summary of feedback/comments received from the public/other stakeholders on the website of the Department/Ministry concerned.
The manner in which the NHA’s Draft Implementation Strategy was introduced was not in compliance with these basic tenets of the PLCP, thus making the process completely opaque. The consultation period for the draft strategy was open for a period of only seven days, as opposed to the PLCP’s minimum thirty day period. Feedback received on the draft strategy has also not been made available for public access. Furthermore, the Draft Implementation Strategy was only made available on the NDHM website, it was not advertised anywhere else through digital means or otherwise.
Unfortunately, in the past as well SFLC.in’s representations to the NHA have not been acknowledged. Previously, we had also written to Dr. R.S. Sharma (CEO of NHA) pertaining to this very issue of lack of stakeholder consultation by the NHA. However, we did not receive a response regarding it. Nonetheless, SFLC.in will be filing a first appeal against the present RTI response to seek out more details in this matter.
We would like to thank Srikanth for providing us with the hat-tip on this.
You can read the NHA’s response to our RTI Application here: