• In 2013, on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the operationalisation of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (12th–13th October), a snapshot view of the use of the right to information (RTI) by citizens is presented, based on data mined from the latest Annual Reports published by the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Rajasthan on their respective websites, for the years 2011-12. Also included in the present study is the Annual Report published by the State Information Commission of Jammu and Kashmir containing RTI user data for the same period.
* How many RTI applications were filed across India?
• During the year 2011-12 a total of 20.39 lakh (2.03 million) RTI applications were submitted to public authorities under the Central Government and in the 10 States included in this study (including Jammu and Kashmir). By conservatively extrapolating the pattern of user data available in the annual reports included in the present study, if we presume that a similar number of RTI applications may have been submitted in the remaining 18 States, the final figure of RTI users across the country for the period 2011-12, may be estimated to cross 40 lakhs. This would be a mere 0.3% of the 120 crore (1.2 billion) population of the country. It would also amount to only 0.5% of the electorate comprising of citizens aged 18 and above.
• The Annual Report of the Central Information Commission does not contain any disaggregate data about the number of RTI applications received and disposed by the Secretariats of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in Parliament. Similarly no data about the receipt and disposal of RTI applications in the respective State Legislatures is available in the Annual Reports of the State Information Commissions of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
• There is no information about the receipt and disposal of RTI applications in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court in the Annual Report of the Central Information Commission.
• In Chhattisgarh 2,351 women (4.81% of the total number of RTI applicants) sought information under the Central RTI Act. No other Information Commission has published data about the gender-wise breakup of the number of applicants.
• In Chhattisgarh 2.49% of the RTI applicants belonged to Below the Poverty Line (BPL) category. No other Information Commission has captured this data category in its Annual Report. In Maharashtra, 11,246 BPL applicants (1.76% of the total no. of successful applicants) received the information they requested.
• In Chhattisgarh applicants from traditionally disadvantaged communities such as Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) accounted for 3.38% and 3.06% of the total number of RTI applications submitted in that State, respectively.
• In Chhattisgarh, the only State where the urban-rural breakup of RTI applicants is available, a little more than a fifth of the applicants (21%) were living in villages.
• The University of Kashmir is reported to have received the highest number of RTI applications (1043) during the last years 2009-12. It is reasonable to expect that a substantial number of these applicants may be young students.
• None of the Information Commissions have published figures pertaining to urgent requests for information relating to life and liberty that public authorities must furnish within 48 hours [proviso to Section 7(1)].
* Top 5 public authorities receiving the most number of RTI applications
• The Revenue and Urban Development Departments topped the list of departments/public authorities that received the most number of RTI applications in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
• Rural Development Departments (with or without the charge of Panchayati Raj) figure amongst the top 5 in 7 other States, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, and Nagaland
• The Police Department topped the list in Mizoram. The Home Department, including the police, topped the list in Chhattisgarh while in Maharashtra its counterpart occupied the second position.
• The Jaipur Development Authority and the University of Kashmir are the only public authorities outside of ministries and departments in their respective States that topped the list amongst all 11 jurisdictions covered by this study.
• The Ministry of Finance covering many other public authorities such as banks and insurance companies received more than a fifth (20.41%) of the total number of RTI applications submitted to various public authorities under the Central Government. Individually speaking, the Department of Posts stood first in terms of number of RTI applications received by a public authority.
• The Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi received more than 10% of the total number of RTI Applications accounted for in the Central Information Commission’s Annual Report.
* Proportion of rejections at the RTI application stage
• In States with smaller populations like Meghalaya and Mizoram less than 1% rejection was reported at the RTI application stage.
• In Karnataka where public authorities received close to 2.93 lakh (293,000) requests the proportion of rejections was a mere 0.30%.
• Some of the highest proportions of rejections were observed in the context of public authorities under the Central Government (8.14%) and those under the State Government of Maharashtra (7.2%) both of which received more than 6.5 lakh (650,000).
• Although the macro picture in all governments covered by this study indicates rejection of not more than 10% of the total number of RTI applications received, some of the public authorities had very high rates of rejection.
• The largest number of rejections of RTI applications (15,279) in public authorities under Central Government occurred on the grounds of protecting personal privacy [Central RTI Act, Section 8(1)(j)]. In Andhra Pradesh the exemptions pertaining to contempt of court and prohibition on the disclosure of information by courts was invoked most frequently (131 times) to reject RTI applications [Central RTI Act, Section 8(1)(b)]. Public authorities in Karnataka are said to have invoked most frequently (101 times) the exemption relating to police investigation, arrests and criminal trials [Central RTI Act, Section 8(1)(h)].
• More than 4,000 RTI applications are said to have been rejected because they pertained to the 25 intelligence and security organisations notified by the Central Government under Section 24 of the Central RTI Act.
* Receipt and Disposal of First Appeals
• The Central Information Commission and the J&K State Information Commission have not included statistics about the receipt and disposal of first appeals by public authorities in their Annual Reports.
• In Bihar despite only 4.22% of the RTI applications being rejected, the number of first appeals submitted was almost six times higher (23.94%). In Nagaland where fewer RTI applications were submitted, despite the rejection rate being a little less than 10%, the proportion of first appeals filed was one and a half times higher (15.32%). In Meghalaya the proportion was eight times higher (8.80%) than the rejection rate of less than 1%.
• Nagaland State Information Commission records, “lack of response from the PIO” as the reason for the submission of 48% of the total number of first appeals, whereas the remaining are said to have been submitted by citizens dissatisfied with the reply or quality of information received.
• While, in most States, first appellate authorities ordered disclosure of information in about 90% of the cases, in Rajasthan, more than a third (34.48%) of the first appeals was rejected by their counterparts.
• Except the State Information Commission of Andhra Pradesh, no other Information Commission reported the number of times exemption clauses were invoked by first appellate authorities to reject an appeal or uphold the decision of public information officers to deny access to information.
• Only the State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Meghalaya and Nagaland have published data about first appeals received and disposed by their respective State Legislatures.
• There is no mention of the number of first appeals received and disposed by the High Courts of Delhi, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir in the Annual Reports of the respective Information Commissions.
* Receipt and Disposal of Second Appeals and Complaints
• More than 10,800 second appeals and complaints were pending before the Central Information Commission during the period 2011-12.
• The proportion of second appeals submitted to the State Information Commission of Rajasthan was more than double the proportion of RTI applications rejected. In all other Information Commissions this proportion ranged between 1% and 10% of the total proportion of rejections at the RTI application stage.
• In Bihar, despite recording a rejection rate of only 4.22% at the RTI application stage, the proportion of second appeals and complaints submitted to the State Information Commission was as high as 19.31%. The proportion of second appeals and complaints submitted to the State Information Commission in Jammu and Kashmir was about 7 times higher than the proportion of rejections.
• The proportion of complaints (4.28%) submitted to the State Information Commission in Karnataka was much higher than the proportion of rejections (0.30%). This figure was higher compared to the second appeals figure (0.31%). In Meghalaya despite the small numbers involved, complaints outnumbered second appeals before the State Information Commission.
• With the exception of those in Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya, no other Information Commission has published figures about their decisions taken on second appeals and complaints, namely, how many were allowed and how many were rejected.
• Data about the receipt and disposal of second appeals and complaints pertaining to the State Legislatures is available in the Annual Reports of the State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Meghalaya and Nagaland only.
• Data about the receipt and disposal of second appeals and complaints pertaining to the High Courts is published in the Annual Reports of the State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Meghalaya and Nagaland only.
• The State Information Commission of Andhra Pradesh is the only body to publish data about the provenance of appellants and complainants approaching it. About 45% of the appellants and complainants are said to be from rural areas.
* Imposing Penalties, Awarding Compensation and Recommending Disciplinary Action
• The total value of the penalties imposed by the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra were the highest crossing Rs. 35 lakhs (Rs. 3.5 million) each.
• The State Information Commission of Karnataka imposed penalties in the most number of cases (537) followed by its counterpart in Maharashtra (343).
• The lowest recovery of penalty amounts was in Bihar (about 1/4th). Many State Information Commissions have not published data about the recovery of penalty amounts from public information officers or payment of compensation awarded to appellants / complainants.
• The number of cases in which the Maharashtra State Information Commission recommended disciplinary action against a public information officer was as high as 443. In comparison the Central Information recommended disciplinary action only in 24 cases.
• The State Information of Karnataka took the lead in awarding compensation to appellants/complainants (Rs. 3.17 lakhs or Rs. 317,000) who had suffered loss or detriment on account of wrongful denial of access to information.
* Availability of the Annual Reports of Information Commissions on Websites
• Although it was previously found that the Mizoram State Information Commission had been defaulting over public disclosure of its Annual Reports, it has now uploaded all Annual Reports up to the year 2011-12. Seven State Information Commissions identified in the previous study in 2012, namely, those in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh continue to be defaulters in terms of displaying their Annual Reports on their websites. These websites do not contain even a link for ‘Annual Reports’
• Only Maharashtra State Information Commission has uploaded on its website, its latest Annual Report due, for the calendar year 2012. No other Information Commission has uploaded its latest Annual Report due, for either the calendar year (January–December 2012) or the financial year (April 2012– March 2013).
• The Central Information Commission and 9 Information Commissions in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Karnataka, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Rajasthan have uploaded their Annual Reports for all the years up to 2011-12. Others have displayed Annual Reports for one year or more but not for the period 2011-13.
• With the exception of the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan all other Information Commissions have published their Annual Reports in English only.