Right to Information
According to the study entitled: Information Commissions and the Use of RTI Laws in India 2014 (Rapid Study 2.0) done by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), published in July 2014 (please click here to download the report):
1. Current Composition of and Vacancies in the Information Commissions
• In 2013-2014 - a total of 138 posts of Information Commissioners (including the Chief Information Commissioners) had been created across the country (including the J&KSIC). This is 20 more than the tally of 118 in 2012.
• At the time of writing this report, 14.6% of the posts of Information Commissioners including two posts of State Chief Information Commissioners in Nagaland and Tripura lay vacant.
• The maximum number of vacancies is in Jharkhand – 5 posts are lying vacant as on date.
• Uttar Pradesh State Information Commission has the full complement of 11 members as provided by the RTI Act. Punjab has 10 members and the Central Information Commission (CIC) and Andhra Pradesh State Information Commission have 9 posts each.
2. Background of Chief Information Commissioners
• 26 of the 29 Information Commissions are headed by male Chief Information Commissioners. The lone instance of a woman serving currently as Chief Information Commissioner is in Goa. In 2012, none of the Information Commissions had a woman as the Chief.
• The current Chief Information Commissioner at the CIC served as Director of the Intelligence Bureau – an organisation which Parliament exempted from the ordinary obligations of transparency applicable to other public authorities under the RTI Act.
• 90% of the Information Commissions at the Central and State level continue to be headed by retired civil servants as was the case in 2012. The lone exception is that of Jharkhand which is headed by a retired High Court judge. In 2012 there were 2 Information Commissions headed by retired judges.
• More than 2/3rds (69%) of the Information Commissions across the country are headed by retired IAS officers. In 2012, 75% of these posts were held by retired IAS officers. If the 2 vacant SCIC posts in Nagaland and West Bengal are filed up by retired IAS officers, as has been the practice till date, the proportion of retired IAS officers at the helm of Information Commissions would rise back to 75%.
• The Information Commissions at the Centre and in Kerala are headed by former IPS Officers, that in Assam continues to be headed by a retired IFS officer, and J&KSIC continues to be headed by a retired IRS officer. The Madhya Pradesh State Information Commission is headed by a retired State Civil Services Officer.
• The field of expertise: “administration and governance” continues to remain synonymous with the term “civil services” even after nine years of implementation of the RTI Act.
3. Background of Central and State Information Commissioners
• Only 11.8% of the Information Commissioners (11 out of 93) serving across the country are women. This figure has declined by about 3% since 2012 when a little less than 15% of the Information Commissioners appointed were women.
• More than 50% (6 out of 11) of the women Information Commissioners are retired civil servants a majority of whom are from the IAS. Two other women Information Commissioners have a background in social work and mass media while a third is a former member of the Shiromani Akali Dal – a recognized State level Political Party.
• A little less than a half (49.46%) of the State Information Commissioners are retired civil servants belonging to either the All India Services or the State Civil Services. This proportion has come down from 53% in 2012.
• More than 46% of the State Information Commissioners are retired civil servants belonging to either the All India Services or the State Civil Services. This proportion has come down from 53% in 2012. J&K State Information Commission is the only multi-member body without any retired IAS officer on it. One Central Information Commissioner served as Special Director, Intelligence Bureau during his service as an IPS Officer.
• 21% of the Information Commissioners are either lawyers or retired judges or have taught law at a university. This proportion has reduced by a little more than 1% since 2012 although in terms of absolute numbers, this proportion has remained steady at 12.
• A little more than 14% of the Information Commissioners have a background in journalism and mass media. This proportion has increased from 10% in 2012.
• The number of Information Commissioners from the field of social service has increased from 1 to 3 since 2012. One State Information Commissioner in Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir, each, who were career civil servants have a background in Engineering.
• Three of the Information Commissioners are reported to be former members of political parties (CPI, SAD and INC). A similar figure was reported in 2012.
• One Information Commissioner in Arunachal Pradesh is identified only as a former President of the Arunachal Weightlifting Federation.
• The State Information Commissions of Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal are filled with only retired IAS officers.
• Six of the eight members of the Central Information Commission are retired civil servants.
4. Background of Information Commissioners appointed after September 2013
• A majority i.e., about 46%, of the individuals appointed as Information Commissioners, (16 out of 35) post-Namit Sharma review are retired civil servants mostly from the All India Services, and a few from the State Civil Services.
• Ten of the Information Commissioners appointed since September 2013 have a background in journalism.
• While in Arunachal Pradesh one individual with a background in sports was appointed Information Commissioner, a retired College Principal with only a graduate degree in Commerce was appointed State Information Commissioner in Gujarat.
5. Availability of Local Language Websites of Information Commissions
• More than 3/4ths of the Information Commissions do not have a website in the local language. The CIC and the State Information Commissions of Chhattisgarh. Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have local language websites.
• The website of the Madhya Pradesh State Information Commission is in Hindi but displays very little information on it. The links to the local language websites of the State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan do not open up on any browser.
6. Availability of Online Appeal and Complaints Filing Facility
• Only 17% of the Information Commissions provide online facilities for submitting appeals or complaints or both. While the CIC and the State Information Commissions of Gujarat and Tripura accept online filing of both, appeals and complaints, their counterpart in Bihar provides this facility for filing second appeals only.
7. Availability of Cause Lists on the Websites of Information Commissions
• About 58% of the Information Commissions have displayed cause lists on their websites.
• Assam, Bihar, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Sikkim continue to resist the idea of displaying cause lists on their websites. In Karnataka and Uttarakhand, an appellant/complainant may access the cause list only by keying in particulars of his/her case.
• While the Information Commissions of Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh display cause lists in the local language other States display the cause list in English only.
8. Availability of the Status of Pending Appeals and Complaints on the Websites of Information Commissions
• Less than half (48%) of the Information Commissions display the current status of pending appeals and complaints cases. The Central Information Commission was one of the earliest of such bodies to provide this facility. It is possible to search the status of one’s case by keying in one’s name and/or case number on the websites of the Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu only.
• The case status facility on the website of the Chhattisgarh State Information Commission is available in the local language - Hindi.
• The most cumbersome of case status search facilities is that of the Uttarakhand Information Commission where the list of cases is not arranged in reverse chronological order. So a party to a case has to navigate through scores of pages before reaching the case status pages for the year 2014.
9. Availability of Statistics about the Pendency and the Disposal of Cases by Information Commissions
• The Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions of Maharashtra and Uttarakhand are the only Commissions that have displayed figures regarding disposal of appeals and complaints cases on their websites up to May 2014. 58% of the Information Commissions, namely, those of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal do no display information about disposal of cases and pendency of appeals and complaints.
• More than 66,000 appeals and complaints cases were pending in just six Information Commissions across the country. Maharashtra topped the list of Information Commissions with high levels of pendency. The Central Information Commission comes second with a total of 21,946 appeals and complaints up to May 2014. By analysing the data published on the website of the Kerala State Information Commission, we found that 7,745 cases were pending as of March 2014. Similarly from the data available on the website of the Punjab State Information Commission, we deduced that 1,348 appeals and complaints cases were pending in April 2014. The Uttarakhand State Information Commission had a total of 1,096 cases pending in May 2014. The J&K State Information Commission had a total of 140 cases pending in February 2014.
• The staff of the Information Commissions of Sikkim and Tripura confirmed that they did not have any pending cases when we contacted them.
• The staff of the Information Commission in Haryana provided the pendency data within 24 hours upon receiving a formal request.
10. Availability of Decisions of Information Commissions on their Websites
• 65% of the Information Commissions (19 of 29) have uploaded on their websites their decisions on appeals and complaints cases disposed in 2014. In 2012 only 45% of the Information Commissions (13 of 29) provided such a facility.
• The State Information Commissions of Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh have not uploaded any of their decisions for the last 2-4 years.
• The decisions database of the Sikkim State Information Commission is not accessible as the web link is not operational. Uttar Pradesh State Information Commission has not uploaded any of its decisions since 2012.
• The website of the Central Information Commission (http://cic.gov.in) alone is search enabled through Google™.
11. Availability of Annual Reports of Information Commissions
• None of the Information Commissions have published their Annual Reports for the year 2013-14.
• Only the CIC and the State Information Commissions of Gujarat, Karnataka and Mizoram have published their Annual Reports for all the years up to 2012-13. The States of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha have displayed their Annual Reports for the years 2011-12.
• The Annual Reports of the State Information Commissions of Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh are not available for any of the nine years since 2005.
• The Haryana State Information Commission has not published any Annual Report on its website since 2006.
12. Highlights of the Annual Reports of the Information Commissions at the Centre and in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Mizoram and Odisha
a. Rise in the number of RTI applications
• At 46%, Gujarat witnessed the sharpest rise in the number of RTI applications received amongst the four States during 2012-13.
• A similar increase of over 46% was recorded in Odisha during the year 2011-12.
• Karnataka witnessed the second highest rise in the number of requests received at 29% during the year 2012-13.
• At 26%, Chhattisgarh witnessed the third highest increase in the number of RTI applications received in 2012. The figure reached 66,469 from 48,785 in 2011.
• In Mizoram the number of RTI applications increased by 20% in 2012-13.
• Public Authorities under the Central Government received 8,11,350 RTI applications during the period 2012-13.
• In Andhra Pradesh 1,45,583 information requests were received during the year 2012.
b. Quantum of penalties imposed
• While the use of the RTI Act increased in Karnataka, the amount of penalties imposed has grown astronomically. The Karnataka State Information Commission imposed a whopping Rs. 91.20 lakhs as penalty on the Public Information Officers during 2012-13.
• More than 50% of the penalty amount in Karnataka has been imposed on the officers of the Urban Development Department (Rs. 29.87 lakhs) and the Rural Development Department (Rs. 22.31 lakhs) followed by the Revenue Department (Rs. 13.70 lakhs).
• The State Information Commission of Odisha imposed penalties totaling Rs. 30.07 lakhs in 203 cases in 2011-12, while its counterpart in Andhra Pradesh imposed penalties totaling Rs. 18.01 lakhs in 259 cases in 2012. The Chhattisgarh State Information Commission imposed penalties totaling Rs. 14.10 lakhs in 2012. The Gujarat State Information Commission imposed only Rs. 3.06 lakhs as penalty in 20 cases in 2012. The Mizoram State Information Commission did not impose any penalty in 2012-13.
• The CIC has reported imposing penalties totaling Rs. 13.29 lakhs in 2012-13 although the Central Government received the highest number of RTI applications amongst all other governments. The penalty amount has reduced by 65% compared to 2011-12 when the CIC had imposed penalties worth Rs. 38.82 lakhs.
c. Quantum of compensation awarded
• The Karnataka State Information Commission awarded compensation totaling Rs. 4.52 lakhs in 2011-12. Its counterpart in Chhattisgarh awarded Rs. 1.59 lakhs as compensation in 2012. The Gujarat State Information Commission awarded compensation totaling Rs. 21,000 in 2012-13. The Mizoram State Information Commission did not award any compensation in 2012-13. There is no data about the award of compensation in the Annual Reports of the State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha in 2011-12. There is no mention of any compensation awarded in the Annual Report of the CIC.
13. Availability of the Budget and Expenditure figures of the Information Commissions
• Only 48% of the Information Commissions (14 of 29) have displayed both budget and expenditure figures either on their websites or in their Annual Reports. The Information Commissions of Assam, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Uttarakhand and West Bengal have displayed this information on their respective websites as part of their proactive disclosure obligations under the Central RTI Act.
• The State Information Commissions of Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Punjab, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand have not displayed their budgets and expenditure ever or in the last few years.
• None of the Information Commissions have displayed the budget for the year 2014 on their websites.
14. Availability of the Assets and Liabilities Declarations of Information Commissioners on their Websites
• All Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and the Haryana State Information Commission have displayed their assets declarations on their respective official websites. No other Information Commission across the country has taken such a proactive step.
• In Kerala only four Information Commissioners including the State Chief Information Commissioner (out of six) have displayed their assets declarations on their website. The website of the Karnataka State Information Commission displays the assets declaration of only the State Chief Information Commissioner.
• The State Information Commission of Bihar is the only instance where the assets and liabilities statements of the staff are displayed on the website. This is in compliance of the progressive and proactive step of the State Government to make such information public from the highest to the lowest level. However none of the Information Commissioners in Bihar have thought it fit to follow this example.