Resource centre on India's rural distress
 
 

Right to Information

 

KEY TRENDS 

 
• A total of 7.55 lakh (755,247) RTI applications were received by the reporting public authorities in 2014-15. This is about 79,000 fewer RTI applications received in 2013-14. The CIC report notes this decline in the number of RTIs received. However almost 90,000 RTI applications were pending decision at the start of the reporting year of 2014-15 *@

• Around 67 percent of men and 54 percent of women interviewed in the Street Corner Surveys in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and the National Capital Region of Delhi stated that they had heard of the RTI Act. 92 percent of the applicants across the sample states and governments were male, and 8 percent were female **

• 32 percent of RTI applicants interviewed in urban areas (in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and the NCR of Delhi) said that they learnt about the RTI Act through newspapers. 15 percent said that they learnt about it through friends and family, and 13 percent through television. Among rural RTI applicants, newspapers were the leading source of information about the RTI Act (35 percent) followed by books at 22 percent and television (14 percent). 13 percent heard about the RTI Act through family or friends while still others had heard about the Act through NGOs, internet or through public meetings **

• A little less than a half (49.46 percent) 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 percent in 2012 @

• 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 Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice relating to The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013 has supported the Central Government's proposal of amending the RTI Act to keep all political parties out of the ambit of the transparency law and nullify the June 2013 order of the Central Information Commission declaring all six national political parties as public authorities under that law. Only one MP- Ms. Anu Aga who is a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha has put in a dissenting note opposing the Bill #

• The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013 seeks to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 in order to nullify order of full Bench of Central Information Commission (CIC) of 3rd June, 2013 (resting in File No. CIC/SM/C/2011/001386 and CIC/SM/C/2011/000838) bringing six national political parties (AICC/INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP) under the ambit of RTI Act by making liberal interpretation of the term 'public authority' mentioned under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act #

• On the eighth anniversary of India's landmark transparency legislation on 12 October 2013, data mined on the Right to Information (RTI) Act by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) shows it is, indeed, India's sunshine law, with an estimated 40 lakh people using the Act during 2011-12, the latest year for which all-India data is available $

• 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)]. 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 $

• 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 $

• Right to Information enacted in 2005 is meant to ensure transparency and accountability in governance

• The RTI (2005) is considered as the most effective tool to counter corruption and empower citizens

• Freedom of expression is protected in Article 19 of the Constitution of India*

• In 1982, the Supreme Court of India ruled that access to government information was an essential part of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression*

• The Freedom of Information Act 2002 (FOIA) was passed in December 2002 by the Government of India and received the Presidential assent in January 2003*

• In the early-1990s, in the course of the struggle of the rural poor in Rajasthan, the Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) hit upon a novel way to demonstrate the importance of information in an individual's life -- through public hearings or Jan Sunwais*

*@ Annual Report of the Central Information Commission (CIC) for 2014-15 (as informed by Venkatesh Nayak, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative)
 
** People's Monitoring of the RTI Regime in India 2011-13 (published in October 2014), which has been prepared by RTI Assessment and Advocacy Group (RAAG) and Samya -Centre for Equity Studies (CES) (Please click here to download)
 
@ 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)
 
# Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice relating to The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013, Sixty Sixth report, Presented to the Rajya Sabha on 17th December, 2013, [please click here to download the report]
 

$ The Use of Right to Information Laws in India-A Rapid Study Based on the Annual Reports of Information Commissions (2011-12) prepared by Venkatesh Nayak, Amrita Paul, Seema Choudhary and Maja Daruwala, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI, www.humanrightsinitiative.org) (please click here to download)

* Final Report of the Vision Foundation (2005), Planning Commission, Government of India
 

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As per the [inside]Rapid Review 4.0 (previously named Rapid Study) of the State of Information Commissions and Use of RTI Laws across India (released in March 2018)[/inside], which was prepared by the Commonwelath Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), please click here to access:   

State of Information Commissions

• Headless and non-existent SICs: There is no State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) in Gujarat since mid-January 2018. Maharashtra SIC is headed by an acting SCIC since June 2017. There is no Information Commission in Andhra Pradesh (after Telangana was carved out in June 2014). The State Government has assured the Hyderabad High Court that it will set up an SIC soon.

• Vacancies at an all-time high: More than 25 percent (109) of the 146 posts in the Information Commissions, are lying vacant. In 2015, against 142 posts created 111 Information Commissioners (including Chief Information Commissioners) were working across the country.

• Large-sized SICs have huge pendency also: 47 percent of the serving Chief Information Commissioners and ICs are situated in seven States, namely, Haryana (11), Karnataka, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (9 each), Central Information Commission, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu (7 each). Six of these Commissions are saddled with 72 percent of the pending appeals and complaints across the country (pendency data is not available for Tamil Nadu, yet).

• Bias towards bureaucrats in appointments has grown: 90 percent of the Information Commissions are headed by retired civil servants. More than 43 percent of the Information Commissioners are from civil services background. This is the trend despite the Supreme Court’s directive in 2013 to identify candidates in other fields of specialisation mentioned in the RTI Act for appointment.

• Fewer Women ICs: Only 8.25 percent of the serving SCICs and ICs are women. There are only 9 women in all the Information Commissions put together. Three of them are retired civil servants.

• Websites missing and Annual Reports not published: The websites of SICs of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar cannot be detected on any Internet browser. The SICs of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have not published any annual report so far. Jharkhand and Kerala SICs each have six pending annual reports. Punjab has five and Andhra Pradesh, four pending reports.

• Pendency has increased: According to data accessed from 19 Information Commissions, there are 1.93 lakh pending second appeal and complaint cases (as compared to 1.10 lakh cases that were pending across 14 ICs in 2015). Top five ICs accounting for 77 percent of the overall pendency are: Maharashtra (41,537), Uttar Pradesh (40,248), Karnataka (29,291), Central Information Commission (23,989) and Kerala (14,253 cases). Pendency in Bihar, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu among others is not known publicly

• Mizoram SIC received and decided only one appeal case in 2016-17. SICs of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya have no pendency at all.

Use of RTI Laws in India

• RTI applications – annual figures: Between 2015-17, during a 12-month period, about 24.33 lakh RTI applications had been filed across the Central and 14 State Governments. It is not possible to get more accurate figures in the absence of annual reports from several ICs. By a process of extrapolation it may be conservatively estimated that up to 50 lakh/5 million RTI applications would have have been submitted by citizens during the same period.

• RTI applications – over 12 years: Between 2005–2017, ICs reported that 2.14 crore/21.4 million RTI applications were filed across the country. If data is published by all ICs, this figure may actually touch 3-3.5 crores/33-35 million (conservative estimate). Less than 0.5% of the population seems to have used RTI since its operationalisation.

• Biggest grossers – over 12 years: Despite the absence of their latest annual reports, the Central Government (57.43 lakhs/5.74 million) and the State Governments of Maharashtra (54.95 lakhs/5.49 million) and Karnataka (20.73 lakhs/2.07 million) continue to top the list of jurisdictions receiving the most number of information requests. Gujarat (9.86 lakhs) recorded more RTI applications than neighbouring Rajasthan (8.55 lakhs) where the demand for an RTI law emerged from the grass roots. Despite having much lower levels of literacy, Chhattisgarh (6.02 lakh) logged more RTI applications than the 100% literate Kerala (5.73 lakhs). Despite being much smaller sized States, Himachal Pradesh (4.24 lakhs), Punjab (3.60 lakhs) and Haryana (3.32 lakhs) registered more RTI applications each than the geographically bigger State of Odisha (2.85 lakhs).

• Less frequent use of RTI – over 12 years: Manipur recorded the lowest figures for RTI use at 1,425 information requests between 2005-2017. The SIC did not publish any annual report between 2005 and 2011 and is yet to release the report for 2016-17.

• RTI applications: rising trend – over 12 years: Seven jurisdictions, namely, the Central Government and the States of Andhra Pradesh (undivided), Assam, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala and Uttarakhand have recorded an uninterrupted trend of increase in the number of RTI applications received.

• RTI applications: declining trend – over 12 years: Five States- Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Sikkim, Nagaland and Tripura have reported a decline in the number of RTI applications received in recent years. The reasons for the drop in numbers requires probing urgently.

• RTI applications: mixed trend – over 12 years: Seven States, namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Meghalaya, Gujarat, Mizoram, Odisha and West Bengal have recorded a mixed trend where the RTI application figures have fluctuated over the years. After seesawing in the initial years, Arunachal Pradesh has reported a more than 82% decline in the number of RTI applications received in 2015 against the peak reached in 2014. Mizoram’s figures also show a declining trend of 23 percent in 2016-17 after the peak scaled during the previous year. West Bengal’s figures rose and dipped to less than 62 percent of the peak reached in 2010 but a rising trend has been reported in 2015.
 

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Please click here to access the [inside]Pre-legislative Consultative Policy dated 5th February, 2014[/inside], Legislative Department, Ministry of Law & Justice.

 

Key findings of the [inside]Annual Report of the Central Information Commission (CIC) for 2014-15[/inside] (as informed by Venkatesh Nayak, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative):

Trends in RTI statistics reporting: Only 2,030 public authorities under the Government of India registered to submit their RTI returns under Section 25 of The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) in 2014-15. Most number of public authorities registered for any reporting year was in 2012-13 at 2,333. Of the 2,030 registered public authorities, 75.27 percent submitted their annual RTI returns to the CIC in 2014-15. The highest percentage of reporting - 89.23 percent was in the first three months of the implementation of the RTI Act in 2005. However only 938 public authorities had registered themselves with the CIC that year. 2012-13 saw much better compliance in comparison with the total number of public authorities registered. Nearly 79 percent of the 2,333 public authorities submitted their RTI statistics to the CIC that year.

Trends in the receipt of RTI applications: A total of 7.55 lakh (755,247) RTI applications were received by the reporting public authorities in 2014-15. This is about 79,000 fewer RTI applications received in 2013-14. The CIC report notes this decline in the number of RTIs received (para 2.4.2 @ page 10). However almost 90,000 RTI applications were pending decision at the start of the reporting year of 2014-15.

Trend in rejections: The proportion of rejection of RTI applications has shot up by 1.2 percent in 2014-15. While only 7.2 percent of RTI applications was rejected in 2013-14, this figure has increased to 8.4 percent in 2014-15. This is a cause for worry and must be examined. On the face of it, this comparative figure appears to support the anecdotal experiences of many RTI users/activists that the public authorities under the Government of India have begun rejecting more and more RTI applications under the NDA regime. However this trend requires deeper analysis to ascertain whether the rejections were justified under the law or were simply anti-transparency bureaucratic responses.

• Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act exempting personal information continues to be the most invoked exemption under the RTI Act to reject information requests. More than 35 percent of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act in 2014-15. About 20 percent of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 8(1)(d), which exempts information in the nature of commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property- making it the 2nd most invoked exemption, followed by Section 8(1)(e) relating to information made available in a fiduciary relationship (14.6 percent). About 6.1 percent of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 8(1)(h), which exempts access to information if disclosure impedes an investigation, trial or arrest of offenders. Parliamentary privilege [Section 8(1)(c)] was the least invoked of exemptions - only 86 RTI applications were rejected under this clause. However this may not include the data from the twin Secretariats of Parliament as they do not seem to have submitted their RTI statistics to the CIC. About 11.8 percent of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 24 relating to the 25 exempted organisations under Schedule 2 of the RTI Act. For the purpose of the calculation of percentages in this para, only rejections under Sections 8, 9, 11 & 24 of the RTI Act are included as they are the only valid grounds for rejection of an RTI application.

• The proportion of RTI applications rejected for reasons other than Sections 8, 9 (private copyright), 11 (third party) and 24 seems to be ever growing. It stood at 28,444, marking an increase of more than 6 percent as compared to 2013-14. In previous years, the CIC had called for a deeper examination of this problem as the RTI Act does not permit the rejection of RTI applications for any other reason. In the 2014-15 Annual Report, the CIC does not even comment on this phenomenon. Strangely, the CIC states that the increase is only 1 percent in this category as compared to the previous year whereas a comparison between the figures for 2013-14 and 2014-15 under "others" category clearly shows an increase of 6.2 percent even though fewer public authorities registered and reported their RTI statistics to the CIC.

Trends in 1st appeals: During 2014-15, 86,944 first appeals were filed with various public authorities under GoI. 96 percent of them are said to have been disposed of during the same year. However when compared with the total number of rejections (Sections, 8, 9, 11, 24 & "others" included) at 8.4 percent at the stage of the Public Information Officer (PIO), the proportion of first appeals filed stands at 11.78 percent, indicating a more than 3 percent increase. This shows that a large number of RTI applicants were dissatisfied with the responses of the PIOs even though they did not invoke any exemption to reject their RTI applications.

Trends in 2nd appeals and complaints received and disposed by the CIC: The CIC received 35,396 appeals and complaints cases in 2014-15. The CIC decided 20,181 cases during the year. 37,323 cases were pending before the CIC as on 1st April 2015. Interestingly, the CIC does not provide any data about how it decided these cases- in how many cases the appeal or complaint was upheld and information ordered to be disclosed and in how many the appeal/complaint was rejected. This continuing trend of lack of publication of data about the outcome of the cases decided by the CIC year after year is preventing any informed discussion on whether the CIC is ordering disclosure of information more and more or otherwise.

Trends in penalties imposed by the CIC: The CIC imposed penalties to the tune of more than Rs. 7 lakhs (Rs. 7,39,000) on errant PIOs in 2014-15. This figure has reduced drastically by 61 percent when compared with the imposition of fines to the tune of Rs. 19.25 lakhs (Rs. 1,925,000) in 2013-14. During 2014-15 the CIC recovered penalties better as compared to the previous year. It recovered Rs. 11.31 lakhs (Rs. 11,31,225) as compared to Rs. 10.19 lakhs (Rs. 1,019,628) which is about 10 percent higher. It is not clear whether the reduction in the number of penalties is due to better compliance of PIOs or a more lenient attitude adopted by the Information Commissioners. This requires a deeper examination of all the CIC's orders to ascertain whether penalty was or was not imposed in deserving cases.


RTI trends across some prominent constitutional authorities, Ministries and Public Authorities:

1) President's Secretariat: The President's Secretariat received 2,816 RTI applications in 2014-15 marking a decline of more than 8 percent over 2013-14. The proportion of rejection in 2014-15 was also lesser at 9.3 percent as compared to 10.79% in 2013-14. The number of rejections under "others' category also fell to 222 in 2014-15 from 298 in 2013-14.

2) Prime Minister's Office (PMO): The PMO witnessed a 44 percent increase in the number of RTI applications received in 2014-15 (12,674) as compared to 2013-14 (7077). The proportion of rejection was higher at 22.1 percent in 2014-15 as compared with 20.5 percent in 2013-14. While the PMO rejected only 14 RTI applications under the grounds permissible in the RTI Act, it rejected 99 percent of the requests (2,781) under "others" category making it the topmost public authority rejecting RTI applications for reasons not permissible under the RTI Act.

3) Cabinet Secretariat: Cabinet Secretariat received 1,061 RTI applications in 2014-15 marking an increase of 13.78 percent over the previous year. The proportion of rejection has fallen drastically to 4.3 percent in 2014-15 as compared to 15.1 percent during the previous year. The number of rejections under the "others" category has also come down drastically from 85 in 2013-14 to 24 in 2014-15. It is not clear whether the Cabinet Secretariat statistics include RTI data from R&AW under it, which is exempt under Section 24 of the RTI Act except in matters relating to allegations of corruption and human rights violation.

4) Comptroller & Auditor General of India (C&AG): C&AG received 5.3 percent fewer RTI applications in 2014-15 as compared to the previous year. The proportion of rejection also fell from 7 percent in 2013-14 to 6.3 percent in 2014-15. C&AG did not reject any RTI application under the "others" category, according to the CIC's report.

5) Election Commission of India (ECI): ECI received 1,939 RTI applications in 2014-15 - a jump of 4.6 percent over the previous year. The proportion of rejection has remained steady at 0.1 percent since 2011-12.

6) Ministry of Personnel, Pubic Grievances and Pensions: The Ministry of Personnel, Pubic Grievances and Pensions, responsible for steering the implementing the RTI Act in the Central Government, received 24,524 RTI applications in 2014-15. This shows an increase of 51 percent over the figures reported in 2013-14. However the Department of Personnel and Training had not reported its RTI statistics for that year. So the comparison may not be accurate. The Ministry rejected 9.4 percent of RTI applications in 2014-15. However the number of rejections under "others" category, almost doubled in 2014-15.

7) Ministry of Finance: The Finance Ministry receives the largest number of RTI applications as it has public sector banks, insurance companies, tax authorities and tribunals under its jurisdiction. With fewer public authorities reporting RTI data to the CIC the Finance Ministry seems to have received 140,324 RTI applications in 2014-15 - the highest amongst all reporting ministries. In 2013-14 this Ministry had received 1.5 lakh RTI applications. Despite fewer RTI applications being reported the proportion of rejection has increased by 1 percent in 2014-15 (20.2 percent) as compared to the previous year. The rejection under "others" category also witnessed a marked increase of 8.6 percent over the figures of 2013-14.

8) Ministry of Home Affairs: The Home Ministry received 52,009 RTI applications in 2014-15 marking an increase of 12.3 percent over the previous year. More than 42 percent of these RTI applications were received by the Delhi Police which comes under this Ministry. The proportion of rejection in 2014-15 has also increased to almost 16 percent as compared to 14.2 percent in 2013-14. However, the number of RTI applications rejected under "others" category has come down slightly from 2,164 in 2013-14 to 2,148 in 2014-15.

9) Ministry of Defence: The Defence Ministry witnessed an increase of 11.7 percent in the number of RTI applications received (35,082) in 2014-15 as compared to the previous year. The rate of rejection has also shot up from 12 percent to almost 16 percent in 2014-15. 2014-15 witnessed an increase of 31 percent in the number of instances of RTI applications being rejected under "others' category.

10) Ministry of External Affairs: The Foreign Ministry witnessed a marked decline of more than 26 percent in the number of RTI applications received in 2014-15. The proportion of rejections has also increased from 4 percent in 2013-14 to 7 percent in 2014-15. However, the number of rejections under "others" category fell by almost 54 percent in 2014-15 as compared to the previous year.

11) Delhi High Court: In the study by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative of the CIC's Annual Report published widely last year, it was reported that the Delhi High Court had not been submitting its RTI data to the CIC. The Delhi High Court has presented its data to the CIC in 2014-15. It received 839 RTI applications in 2014-15 of which 28.7 percent were rejected. This is higher than the proportion of rejection reported by the PMO. While only 22 RTI applications were rejected under the permissible exemptions specified in the RTI Act, 219 requests were rejected in the "others" category.

12) Delhi Police: Delhi Police received about 0.8 percent fewer RTI applications (29,927) in 2014-15 as compared with the previous year. The rate of rejection has fallen conspicuously from 9.2 percent in 2013-14 to 7.3 percent in 2014-15. The number of RTI applications rejected under "others" category has also slightly declined from 593 in 2013-14 to 561 in 2014-15.

Public Authorities which did not submit their RTI statistics to the CIC

Of the 502 public authorities which did not submit their Annual Returns to the CIC, the following prominent ones are noticeable:

• Constitutional Bodies/ Authorities: Supreme Court of India, Lok Sabha Secretariat & Rajya Sabha Secretariat (whether they have registered with the CIC ever since 2005 is also unclear. The RTI data of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs does not mention whether the data for these two Secretariats are included in it).

• Ministries: Ministry of Coal, Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, Ministry of Housing & Poverty Alleviation, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Women & Child Development.

• Departments: Dept. of Defence, Dept. of Defence Production, Dept. of Financial Services, Dept. of Pharmaceuticals, Dept. of AIDS Control, Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Legal Affairs, Dept. Legislative Dept.

• Regulatory Authorities: Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India.

• Other Public Authorities: Air India, Bharat Electronic Ltd., Central Board of Excise & Customs, several Chief Commissioners of Excise & Customs across the country, Coal India Ltd., Central Board of Secondary Education, CBI, Central Administrative Tribunal, Delhi Metro Corporation Ltd., Delhi Milk Scheme, National Gallery of Modern Art, National School of Drama, Nuclear Power Corporation of India, RML Hospital, New Delhi, Lady Hardinge Medical College and Smt. S K Hospital, Delhi, Central Universities of Gujarat, Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand etc., IISC & IIM - both in Bengaluru, IIT Madras, Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti, Employees State Insurance Corporation, Directorate General of Mines Safety, Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, Staff Selection Commission, etc.

 

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As a part of the People's RTI assessment 2011-13, a total of 2279 persons were individually interviewed across four states (in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Bihar) and the National Capital Region of Delhi. 2,000 people were individually interviewed (Street Corner Interviews-SCIs) in the capitals of the four sample states, and in Delhi. In addition, a total of 95 focus group discussions (FGDs) were also organized. Of these, 74 were organized in the 24 sample villages in eight districts of the four sample states (Delhi was excluded). A total of 2867 people participated in the 95 focus group discussions (FGDs).

According to the report entitled: [inside]People's Monitoring of the RTI Regime in India 2011-13 (published in October 2014)[/inside], which has been prepared by RTI Assessment and Advocacy Group (RaaG) and Samya -Centre for Equity Studies (CES) (Please click here to download):

Valuing the RTI Act

• Approximately 77% of the people interviewed through Street Corner Interviews (SCIs) thought that access to government held information could be helpful in various ways.

• Almost 58% felt that access to government held information was helpful in solving individual problems. Nearly 24% thought that it would help prevent corruption, minimize bad governance and improve government efficiency while 26% thought it would contribute to solving community and national problems

• About 83% of those who had heard of the RTI Act, in the state headquarters and in Delhi, stated that the RTI Act was relevant for them.

• Nearly 80% of respondents in rural FGDs, and 95% in urban FGDs, said that they would like to use the RTI Act to redress grievances.

Awareness of RTI Act

• Nearly 61% of the respondents in the state headquarters (including Delhi) had heard about the RTI Act.

• In nearly 38% of the urban FGDs and 36% of the village FGDs, at least one or more person had heard about the RTI Act.

• 67% of men and 54% of women interviewed in the SCIs stated that they had heard of the RTI Act. The least disparity between men and women, in terms of awareness of the RTI Act, was witnessed in Delhi where 67% men and 64% women, who were interviewed, had heard of the RTI Act. Patna (Bihar) and Jaipur (Rajasthan) were the worst performers with almost a 20% difference between men and women.

• 68% of young people (age group of 18 to 30 years), 57% of middle aged people (30 to 50 years) and 48% of people above the age of 50 years, interviewed in SCIs, stated that they had heard of the RTI Act.

• In rural areas, newspapers were the most common source of information about the RTI Act, while in urban low income settlements, television was the most common source of information about the RTI Act. Overall, newspapers were the most common source of information about the RTI Act for both rural and urban RTI applicants.

• 32% of RTI applicants interviewed in urban areas said that they learnt about the RTI Act through newspapers. 15% said that they learnt about it through friends and family, and 13% through television. Among rural RTI applicants, newspapers were the leading source of information about the RTI Act (35%) followed by books at 22% and television (14%). 13% heard about the RTI Act through family or friends while still others had heard about the Act through NGOs, internet or through public meetings.

• In 69% of rural FGDs and 83% of urban FGDs, people reported visiting government offices while trying to seeking information to resolve the problems faced by their community, underscores the importance of using government offices as a space for creating awareness about the RTI Act.

Who uses the RTI Act and for what?

• 92% of the applicants across the sample states and governments were male, and 8% were female.

• 14% of the applicants lived in rural areas, 58% in towns/cities, and 29% in metropolitan centres.

• If an estimated four million RTI applications were filed in India, in 2011-12, then this would suggest that over half a million of the applicants were from rural areas.

• 96% of the RTI applications had a single signatory, 1% had two or more signatories, and 3% of the applications were on letterheads of some organization or group.

• Only 5% of the RTI applications were from public servants seeking information about their service matters.

• A total of 67% of the information being asked for was such that it should either have already been made public pro-actively, under section 4, without being requested for (49%), or proactively supplied to the applicant without her having to file an RTI application (18%).

• The most commonly sought information related to decisions taken, action taken or proposed to be taken, norms prescribed by public authorities, basis of decisions, financial and public resources, schemes and programmes, and human resources.

• Most RTI applicants sought information in the form of a response to a query (73%) as opposed to copies of documents and records (47%), with 20% seeking both.

• 7% of the ‘applications’ were technically not RTI applications but a complaint, a grievance or a cry for help.

• At least 16% of the applicants were seeking information that was aimed at getting action on a complaint, getting a response from a public authority, or getting redress for a grievance.

Ease and Certainty of Access to Information

• The report team got 87% of the information that was requested from state and central nodal agencies, but only 45% from sample of Public Authorities (PAs) in various states and the Central Government.

• For applications filed by the report team with sample PAs, 41% of the information was received in time. A little over 50% of the information received was in time for applications filed by the RaaG team with nodal departments.

• Except for first appeals filed with the Central Government or Delhi Government, there is less than 4% chance of getting any information by filing a first appeal.

Public Authorities (PAs)

• In 65% of the PA premises inspected, no board displaying details of the Public Information Officer (PIO), fee, timings etc. could be found.

• In 59% of the PA premises inspected, no records detailing the categories of information listed under section 4 were available for inspection

• 23% of PA websites analyzed did not have a link to section 4 disclosures

• 10% of PA websites analyzed did not provide information on the name of the PIO of the PA

Public Information Officers (PIOs)

• All PIOs interviewed were aware that they were the designated PIOs.

• 91.5% PIOs stated that they were aware of the provisions of the RTI Act.

• 38% PIOs spent less than 2 hours a week on RTI related work, while 39% spent less than 5 hours a week.

• Request for voluminous information was the major difficulty faced by PIOs in responding to RTIs, followed by unclear applications.

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According to the study entitled: [inside]Information Commissions and the Use of RTI Laws in India 2014[/inside] (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.

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According to the Department-related [inside]Parliamentary Standing Committee report relating to The RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2013[/inside], Sixty Sixth report, Presented to the Rajya Sabha on 17th December, 2013, [please click here to download the report]:

•    The Parliamentary Standing Committee has supported the Central Government's proposal of amending the RTI Act to keep all political parties out of the ambit of the transparency law and nullify the June 2013 order of the Central Information Commission declaring all six national political parties as public authorities under that law. Only one MP- Ms. Anu Aga who is a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha has put in a dissenting note opposing the Bill. 

•    Keeping in view the importance of the Bill, the Committee issued a press communiqué in national and local newspapers and dailies, to solicit views/ suggestions from desirous individuals/ organisations on the provisions of the Bill. In response thereto, 39 memoranda containing suggestions were received, from various organizations/ individuals / experts, by the Committee. The Committee interacted with DoPT, members of political parties and various NGOs.

•    The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013 seeks to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 in order to nullify order of full Bench of Central Information Commission (CIC) of 3rd June, 2013 (resting in File No. CIC/SM/C/2011/001386 and CIC/SM/C/2011/000838) bringing six national political parties (AICC/INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP) under the ambit of RTI Act by making liberal interpretation of the term 'public authority' mentioned under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

•    The Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the Bill mentions that the political parties are not public authorities since they are neither established nor constituted by or under the Constitution or any other law made by Parliament. They are rather registered/ recognized under the Representation of People Act, 1951 and Rules/Orders made or issued thereunder. Provisions of the Representation of People Act, 1951 as well as the Income Tax Act, 1961 deal with transparency in the financial aspects relating to the parties and their candidates.

•    Declaring political parties as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper their smooth internal functioning; party rivals may misuse the provisions of the RTI Act adversely affecting the functioning of political parties. Moreover, the objective of the said Act is not to include political parties under its ambit.

•    Since the decision of CIC is binding upon the parties in view of Section 19(7) of the RTI Act, the Statement of Objects and Reasons has also mentioned that aforesaid amendment to keep political parties out of ambit of the RTI Act will have retrospective effect from the date of decision of CIC, i.e., 3rd June, 2013.

•    The Committee noted the justification to the proposed amendment given in the Cabinet Note No. 1/13/2013-IR dated the 23rd July, 2013 to annul erroneous decision arrived at by CIC by liberal interpretation of the term 'public authority' in relation to RTI Act:-

*    Registration of political parties under Section 29 A of the RP Act, 1951 with Election Commission of India cannot be construed as akin to establishment or constitution of body or institution by an appropriate Government.

*    Misuse of the Act by political rivals with malicious intention which may adversely affect smooth functioning of political parties which is neither the object of the Act nor was envisaged by Parliament under the Act.

•    Secretary, DOPT, which is nodal Ministry for the RTI Act justified the amendment to the Act on the ground that possible political misuse of the Act by political rivals which would destabilize the political party which is not the objective of the Act. Existing provisions in the RP Act, 1951 and the Income Tax Act, 1961 ensure transparency in the financial aspects of political parties. He added that all information including financial information which is not exempted under Section 8 of the Act needed to be shared if the order of CIC is not nullified.

•    All six national political parties except CPI which were respondent to the CIC order of 3rd June, 2013 were categorical in their assertion that political parties are not public authority in relation to RTI Act. The Committee sought views of all recognized national and state parties on the proposed legislation. Till date INC, NCP, CPI, CPI(M) and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) have submitted their views which are in support of proposed amendment. However, the BJD through its Member in the Committee, has categorically asserted that his party firmly opposes the proposed amendment and fully supports the spirit and tenor of the CIC order.

•    Civil Society Organizations are of the view that information relating to financial matter of political parties need to be shared with public as bulk financing to political parties is under Rs.20,000 which is not reported to Election Commission of India and Income Tax Authorities and is therefore unaccounted for. Some of the political parties have reportedly been in receipt of contributions from foreign sources in contravention of Section 29B of the RP Act, 1951 and corresponding provision in the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010.

•    The Committee also noted that following provisions in other existing laws ensure adequate transparency in respect of financial matters of political parties and their candidates which have been stressed as grounds for not bringing political parties under RTI Act:

*    Declaration of contribution received in excess of Rs.20,000/- from any individual and non-governmental companies to Election Commission which that Commission put on its website (Section 29C of the RP Act, 1951, read with Rule 85B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961).

*    Declaration of assets and liabilities by elected candidates for a House of Parliament (Section 75A of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Maintenance of correct account of election expenditure of the candidate (Section 77 of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Lodging of account of election expenses by the candidate with District Election Officer (Section 78 of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Disqualification of the candidate for failing to lodge election expenses by Election Commission (Section 10A of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Penalty for filing false affidavit (Section 125A of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Direction from Election Commission of India to political parties to submit their accounts within 90 days after general election in case of Lok Sabha and 75 days in case of Assembly elections (last issued on 21st January, 2013)

*    Inspection of accounts of candidate of political party and obtaining the same from ECI on payment of nominal charges (Section 88 of the RP Act, 1951)

*    Declaration of assets and liabilities to the Ethics Committee of House by the Members of Parliament

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Please click here to download the Department of Personnel and Training's revised version of [inside]RTI User Guide[/inside]. To know what the RTI User Guide has for information seekers, please click here

[inside]DoPT's guidelines on proactive disclosure[/inside]

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has recently uploaded the second installment of guidelines for implementing the proactive disclosure obligations under Section 4(1)(b) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (click here for guidelines issued in November, 2013). These guidelines have been circulated to the States. It has asked state governments to put all information related to implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and Public Distribution System in public domain. The states have been asked to ensure proactive disclosure under Right to Information (RTI) Act of information on public works done by a department at block and panchayat levels.

The Task Force constituted by DoPT has recommended guidelines for disclosure by state governments along with templates for disclosure at various levels. Illustrative templates have been recommended for disclosure under PDS, Panchayats, MGNREGA and primary and secondary schools.

In the case of PDS, disclosures at the level of Fair Price Shops (FPS) should go down to the level of ration card holder, while at the level of district or state, agencies dealing with the disclosures would need to be more broad-based. The public information at FPS should have detail of entitlement, complaints register, helpline number (in case it is available), procedure for applying ration cards under various categories and vigilance committees, as per the template issued by the Centre.

Panchayats have been asked to put in public domain information including sex and age-wise population of a village, families with and without toilets at home, animals, gram sabhas, details of various monitoring committee (on MGNREGA and others), list of records available for free inspection (Panchayati Act, audit reports, etc), details of panchayat taxes, budget, availability of water and various development work done by them.

Information on grievance redressal mechanism at government schools, number of teachers and students (including those with special needs and belonging to backward classes), entitlement and incentive information, budgetary expenditure and mid-day meal programme has to be made public.

The latest set of guidelines focus on practical guidelines for disclosing information about crucial social development programmes at the State level. These will be applicable from the village panchayat level up to the Secretariat level in each State. The DoPT has specifically addressed a letter to the Chief Secretaries seeking their involvement in the use of these guidelines to implement the proactive disclosure obligations of public authorities under the RTI Act.

The DoPT constituted a Task Force in April 2011 to come up with Guidelines for implementing Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act. Civil Society Organisations and senior government representatives were part of this Task Force. The first set of guidelines was publicised in April this year (click here for guidelines issued in April, 2013). The DoPT deserves to be congratulated for completing the long-pending work of the Task Force before the end of the year.
 

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According to the 2013 study titled: [inside]The Use of Right to Information Laws in India-A Rapid Study Based on the Annual Reports of Information Commissions (2011-12)[/inside] prepared by Venkatesh Nayak, Amrita Paul, Seema Choudhary and Maja Daruwala, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI, www.humanrightsinitiative.org) (please click here to download):

•    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.

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[inside]Political parties to come under RTI[/inside] - landmark judgement by CIC

October 29th, 2010 - Copy of the RTI filed by ADR

November 8th, 2010 -  Reply from CPI (M) (Refused to come under RTI)

November 15th, 2010 - Reply from INC (Refused to come under RTI)

November 27th, 2010 - Reply from NCP (Refused to come under RTI)

Match 21st, 2011 - Reply from CPI (furnished information)

BJP did not even respond to the RTI application. Neither did BSP. NCP replied but said that it didn’t have enough man-power to provide the information asked for.

March 2011 - Complaint with the CIC  filed on the basis of above replies. Click Here for the copy of the complaint. Summary of arguments on political parties as public authorities (English)

September 26th, 2012 - Copy of ADR's submission for first CIC hearing. The complaint was heard along with another complaint of Mr. Subhash Agarwal before a full bench considering the seriousness of the matter and its wider implications. Hearing was attended only by CPI and NCP. An additional submission was made by former Chief IT Commissioner Mr. Ashok Aneja. A copy of the same: Submissions on Income Tax exemptions given to Political Parties

November 1st, 2012 - ADR's submission for second CIC hearing. The submission talked about substantial funding given to political parties.

Copy of the Press Note - CIC reserves judgement on Political Parties under RTI

June 3rd, 2013 - Judgement given by CIC to bring Political Parties under RTI

Extra documents as below:

Table on status of information to be available on Political Party websites (English

Source: Association for Democratic Reforms 

 

According to [inside]Evidence-Based Research Mobilising Action for Policy-Influencing in Two Provinces[/inside]: Policy Changes under the Right to Information Act in India, which has been prepared by Vikas Jha, Society of Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), March 2010, http://www.pria.org/docs/RTI%20Case%20Study%282%29.pdf

• In India, in the last 15 years, there has been a fifteen-fold increase in Central Government Budget spending on anti-poverty programmes from around Rs.75,000 million in 1993-94 to well over Rs.1,20,0000 million in 2008-09. Yet, inefficient and leaky delivery mechanisms have resulted in the diversion of resources, and merely marginal improvements in the condition of the poor.

• The government of Bihar has moved ahead and created mechanisms which have had tremendous influence on compliance with RTI in India, while the government of Uttar Pradesh has not responded to evidence-based research and community mobilisation.

• Socio-economic indicators in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are more or less similar, predominantly due to the crisis of governance in the two states. Public institutions have largely become non-accountable and non-responsive to citizens. A study by Transparency International India and the Centre of Media Studies, 2007, covering 11 services with a focus on Below Poverty Line families demonstrates that Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have alarming levels of corruption. These studies substantiate the citizens’ perception that elected representatives and public officials work for themselves and not for citizens.

• From a study conducted by Participatory Research in Asia between April to September 2006, it could be assessed that in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, there are several instances of PIOs refusing to accept applications. Government officers are frequently absent from office and nobody accepts the application in his absence. In Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich district, PIOs refused to accept the fee by postal order saying that they do not have a Government Order for the same, whereas the government has already passed the order that the fee can be paid by postal order. Most of the time, information provided was partial or half-baked.

• Regarding the role of the Information Commissions, the findings pointed out that the SICs are very reluctant to penalize PIOs for dereliction of duty i.e., denial of information to the public. In some provinces like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, the constitution of the SIC was delayed by several months.

• It was also found that SICs were not provided adequate infrastructure, e.g. office space, computers, staff, funds and so on. For example, the Uttar Pradesh SIC has a very heavy workload, but only two Information Commissioners have been appointed.

• The Bihar CIC has recently taken oaths and the official address is still not available even on the website. People in rural areas also felt that the appeal process was very expensive. There is a provision for sending the appeal by post but people feel that in their absence, their case would not be presented properly.

• On the government’s role in educating people, the study pointed out that a large percentage of people (nearly 90%) are not aware of the Act which becomes a hindrance in the filing of applications. In all the states utilisation of the RTI is far less in rural areas as compared to urban areas. The government has not undertaken any campaign, either in the electronic or print media, for making RTI popular among people, while it regularly launches campaigns on the achievements of the railways, health programmes and birthdays of politicians. So far, only one large-scale campaign has been launched on RTI, which was organized by NGOs and the media. Governments, both central and state level, have neither allocated adequate funds to nodal agencies for organising campaigns on RTI nor supported such activities in any other way.

• Community-based research was undertaken by a group of RTI activists in Bihar. They collected the qualitative data by conducting several meetings in the districts of Gopalganj, Siwan, Khagadia, Begusarai, Samastipur, Patna, Muzaffarpur and Madhubani.

• A research study was carried out by Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra (SSK) in Uttar Pradesh in the districts of Sitapur, Bahraich, Varanasi, and Mirzapur. Kabir (an NGO from New Delhi) and Poorest Area Civil Society Project (PACS) partners Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sangha had also taken up an initiative named Action Research Villages (ARV) in four districts (Banda, Chitrakoot, Allahabad, and Bahraich) of Uttar Pradesh in December 2006.

• The initiative began with the training of villagers on RTI so that they could participate in the research. The research and advocacy initiative was conducted over a period of one year to find out peoples’ opinion on RTI and its use, and how it affected the day-to-day lives of the villagers, changed overall village conditions and affected the reform of existing governance mechanisms.

• The research in both the provinces demonstrated that the people in rural areas faced tremendous difficulties in accessing information.

• The role of the Information Commission and the state government was found to be grossly inadequate. Regarding the role of the apex body of RTI, the UP State Information Commission, the research pointed out that poor disposal rate of appeals, citizens not being called for hearings, sympathy for bureaucracy and a wait of four to six months for appeals were common complaints of citizens. Such a state of affairs at the RTI’s apex body worried people, as it would lead to long waits where justice was indefinitely delayed.

• The research also demonstrated that people were able to solve small service delivery problems in housing, unemployment, roads etc. through RTI and expose cases of corruption in some districts (Bihar and Uttar Pradesh). The findings from the community-based research were shared regularly with the media through regular press briefs.

• Some of the research findings in Uttar Pradesh, such as corruption in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), mid-day meals, scholarships and school uniforms were highlighted in newspapers, which built pressure on the government to take corrective action. Some cases of harassment of the common citizens were also highlighted in the media.

• PRIA in 2008 took up a study entitled “Review of Right to Information Rules in Seven States”. The study pointed out that the RTI rules framed by the states go against the letter and spirit of the RTI Act, 2005. It is a well-settled principle of delegated legislation in the federal structure of India that the rules made to enable legislation cannot go against the provisions of the parent Act they seek to enforce.

• The study finds that in many instances the rules were framed violating the provisions of the RTI Act.

• The Uttar Pradesh Government did not seem very comfortable with the widespread use of the RTI Act by common citizens. It tried to expand the list of exemptions by excluding 14 items from the purview of the RTI Act. These items were the appointment of the Advocate General; notifications related to the Uttar Pradesh Rules of Business 1975; the Government of India’s Allocation of Rules of Business; matters related to the other states’ rules of business; probe against ministers and Members of Parliament; all matters related to the Padma awards, appointment of the Governor; the appointment of ministers, ministers of state and deputy ministers; the code of conduct for the ministers and the Chief Minister’s instructions to them; the appointment of judges and the Governor’s monthly report that is sent to the President of India.

• A lot many civil society organizations demanded that the RTI Act should be followed in letter and spirit, a single window system should be created to facilitate access to information and RTI laws should be citizen-friendly. A demand for RTI call centres on the lines of Bihar was also made in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh by Action Group for Right to Information (AGRI, a partnership and network group of RTI activists in the state) and national-level activists Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia.

• The Bihar Government established the ’Jankari’ call centre on 29 January 2007. The centre records the voices of the citizens over the phone and drafts the application in a manner that can be put before the Public Information Officers in the Public Authorities.

• Since a large chunk of the rural population is unable to read and write, the call centre is proving to be beneficial as it writes applications on behalf of the complainants. A sum of Rs. 10 is charged as fees (under the RTI provisions) and is automatically charged in the caller's telephone bill.

• Bihar is the first state in India to accept RTI applications on the phone with the objective of ensuring transparency in the functioning of public institutions and that of expanding the reach of RTI to the villages.

• The RTI call centre had a slow start but it has gradually picked up. The analysis of data of two years (2007 –2009) of the RTI call centre’s working shows that it has facilitated in the filing of applications and Appeals in a big way.

• A comparison of the data of six months in 2007 and 2009 on details of calls received at the call centre shows that the number of applications filed has jumped nearly three times from 2007 to 2009. The number of First Appeals and Second Appeals has seen a huge increase over these two years.

• The analysis of call details helps us find out the government departments which are getting the maximum number of RTI applications. The maximum number of RTI applications was filed in the Personal and Administrative Reforms Department and Rural Development Department.

• Interaction with community and civil society organisations in Bihar brought out the reasons for RTI usage in these two departments; community members said malpractices in huge recruitment drives for primary school teachers and in rural employment drives under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme were the reason they wanted to find out whether entitlements were granted in a fair manner.

• The three- to four-fold increase in the number of queries over these two years substantiates the conclusion that the call centre has been able to educate and guide a number of citizens. Though the number of 12,628 (2009) seems to be quite small compared to the huge population of Bihar, this method of responding to RTI applications, appeals and queries assumes importance, as no such method exists in other states.

• Information technology then, if used innovatively, can provide solutions for poor grievance redressal, poor transparency and non-accountability of government institutions.

• There have been some logistical constraints in the call centre’s operations as citizens complain that the phone lines are often jammed and it is not possible to call from all the districts in Bihar. It is also seen in some cases that the questions are not framed with the applicants’ information needs in mind. Hence, wrong information is furnished to the applicant. These must be seen as small operational bottlenecks which can be easily sorted out if the call centre is expanded.

 

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According to [inside]Tracking the Progress of Right to Information in 12 states[/inside], August 2006, which has been prepared by Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), http://cic.gov.in/StudyReports/Tracking%20progress%20of%20RTI%20-%20PRIA.pdf:

I. Constitution of State Information Commission and its role

1. State Information Commissions (SIC) have been constituted in all states (Except Arunachal Pradesh). But in some states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, the constitution of SIC was delayed by several months.

2. State Information Commissions were not provided adequate infrastructure e.g. office, computers, staff, funds etc. e.g. Uttar Pradesh SIC function under heavy workload but only two Information Commissioners have been appointed, Bihar CIC has recently taken oath and official address is not available even on website, Rajasthan SIC is functioning from one room.

3. State Information Commission are very reluctant to penalize PIOs for dereliction of duty i.e. denial of information to public. There have been very few instances of penalty (Uttarachal, AP & Uttar Pradesh have some penalty cases). SIC often say that PIOs are in a learning stage; can there be some clarification on the time frame of the learning phase of PIOs?

4. People in rural areas feel that the appeal process is very expensive (fees for appeal exist in MP, Orissa, Maharastra and Chattisgarh) as they have to come to the city in case of hearings. There is a provision for sending the appeal by post but people feel that in their absence, their side would not be presented properly.

5. Application fee is high in Haryana (Rs. 50) and photocopying fee is very high in HP ( Rs. 10 per page). State governments should take cues from AP where there is no fee at GP level, Rs. 5 at Mandal level and Rs. 10 at district level. The mode of fee payment is complicated – payment in cash made against a treasury head and PIOs have no information on it, bank draft is expensive, postal order and non judicial stamps payment applicable only in few states. (HP has notified common treasury head for all departments)

II. Role of Nodal Agencies

1. Nodal agencies in the states have initiated the process of training of PIOs in Uttaranchal, MP, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kerala. Centre for Good Governance, Yashada (Pune) and Public Administration Institutes are handling the training for PIOs in the surveyed states. Training of PIOs, particularly BDOs and officials of line department is not sufficient, as most of them are simply not aware of the act. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana are lagging behind in training of PIOs.

2. How the nodal agencies are planning to take up training of BDOs and Panchayat secretaries is not clear– no time frame or road map has been prepared. In Uttar Pradesh alone, Panchayat secretaries of 52,000 GPs (Gram Panchayat) are to be trained and the budget of SIC (UP) is Rs. 10 lakhs per annum.

3. Nodal agencies in some states- AP, MP, Uttaranchal, have prepared learning materials on RTI (in English, Hindi and local languages) and template for suo motto disclosure of information; while other states are very slow on this front. In Kerala, the RTI Act in Malayalam is so tough that even educated person find it difficult to understand it.

4. Nodal agencies have prepared directories of PIOs which in most states is available on web site, but in several instances, the list is incomplete with several omissions – some departments / districts or PIOs are missing. Directories should be made available in printed form.

III. Appointment of PIOs

1. Public Information Officers have been appointed in most public authorities in the states. The process of accessing information by people has started slowly through Right to Information Act.

2. There exits great confusion in definition of public authority - in some states like Kerala, several public authorities example Cooperative Banks, aided educational institutions – schools and colleges claim that they are not covered under RTI Act. similarly private builders of dams in Himachal Pradesh & Uttaranchal and private banks claim that they do not fall in the purview of act. This issue needs clarification from the Central Information Commission and SIC. There is no PIO in high courts of Haryana & Punjab, despite the fact that it is a public authority.

3. Sometimes, officials / persons who do not have easy access to information are appointed as PIO. In Uttaranchal, Sarpanch is PIO ; in Himachal Pradesh , BDO is PIO even for GP (Gram Panchayat); PIOs are normally junior officers in the department, they find it difficult to get information from senior officers.

4. PIOs are being appointed but not according to the requirement of public authorities. In Kerala , DoPT has 42 PIOs but Kerala Water Authority has 1 PIO. Nameplates of PIOs are not there in most public authorities particularly at the district level, so people simply do not any idea where the application is to be submitted.


IV. Experience of Seeking Information from PIOs

1. Most of the PIOs at state level and district level are not cooperative and they sometimes threaten applicants to withdraw applications. In Haryana, our activists were threatened by PIOs for seeking information. In Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh , Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, there are several instances of PIOs refusing to accept applications.

2. PIOs often say that they do not know under which head the application fee is to be deposited. They are frequently absent from office and no body accepts application in his absence. In Uttar Pradesh, Bahraich district , PIOs have refused to accept the fee by postal order saying that they do not have Government Order for the same whereas the Government has already passed the order that fee can be paid by postal order. In the same district, PIOs do not accept application but they provide information, which, is most of times, partial.

3. PIOs should be given more training so that they are sensitive to people’s need and PIOs who are guilty of deliberate denial of information should be penalized.

V. Mandatory disclosure under Section IV of RTI act

1. Our study shows that most of the ministries and directorate level offices in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, and Andhra Pradesh have disclosed information about their activities on their website while some government departments (ministries and directorate level) in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Bihar have still not taken steps to implement Section IV of RTI Act. Department of Agriculture (Rajasthan , UP, Uttaranchal , AP) have done well in self disclosure, they have covered most of the items of Section IV RTI Act.

2. Self-disclosure by ministries and directorate level offices in some states are poorly presented – only 6-7 items out of 17 items of Section IV RTI Act are disclosed e.g. only targets and outline of schemes are given, list of officials and PIOs are not there, expenditure details only in broad heads, district and block wise dispersal of funds not available, date of update is not mentioned (eg Department of Education & Department of Dairy, Rajasthan).

3. It is surprising to find that self-disclosure at district, block and panchayat level have not started in the twelve states, so the departments, which are closer to the people are still lagging behind in implementing Section IV of RTI Act.

VI. Role of Government in educating people under section 26 of the Act

1. Our experience of training programmes, campaign on RTI shows that large percentage of people (nearly 90 percent) is not aware of the Act and they cannot file the applications. Use of RTI is restricted to educated sections particularly government servants. In Haryana, 70 percent of appeals filed are by Govt. employees and nearly all of them are from urban centers. Utilization of RTI in rural areas is far less in all the states.

2. Government has not undertaken any campaign, either in electronic and print media for making RTI popular among people, while it regularly launches campaign on achievements of railways, health programmes and birthdays of politicians. So far only one large-scale campaign has been launched on RTI, which was organized by NGOs and media.

3. Governments, both central and state level, have neither allocated adequate funds to Nodal agencies to organize campaign on RTI nor given support to such activities in any other way.

 

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According to the [inside]Final Report of the Vision Foundation (2005)[/inside], http://planningcommission.gov.in/reports/sereport/ser/stdy_sagspr.pdf, which has been submitted to the Planning Commission, Government of India:


* Freedom of expression is protected in Article 19 of the Constitution of India: All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression
 

* In 1982, the Supreme Court of India ruled that access to government information was an essential part of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. The Court stated, “ The concept of an open Government is the direct emanation from the right to know which seems implicit in the right of free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a). Therefore, disclosures of information in regard to the functioning of Government must be the rule, and secrecy an exception justified only where the strictest requirement of public interest so demands. The approach of the Court must be to attenuate the area of secrecy as much as possible consistently with the requirement of public interest, bearing in mind all the time that disclosure also serves an important aspect of public interest”.   

* Section 76 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, contains what has been termed a 'Freedom of Information Act in embryonic form'. This provision requires public officials to provide copies of public documents to anyone who has a right to inspect them.

* The system of governance in India has traditionally been opaque, with the State retaining the colonial Official Secrets Act (OSA) and continuing to operate in secrecy at the administrative level. The OSA enacted in 1923 was functional in its original form, apart from some minor amendments in 1967. These provisions had been roundly criticised. The Central Civil Service Conduct Rules, 1964 bolstered the provisions of the OSA by prohibiting government servants from communicating any official document to anyone without authorisation.

* Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 prohibited the giving of evidence from unpublished official records without the permission of the head of the relevant department, who is free to grant or to withhold such permission as he or she sees fit. 

* The poor flow of information is compounded by two factors -- low levels of literacy and the absence of effective communication tools and processes. In many regions, the standard of record keeping is extremely poor. Most government offices have stacks of dusty files everywhere, providing an easy excuse for refusing access to records on the specious excuse that they have been 'misplaced'.

* In the early-1990s, in the course of the struggle of the rural poor in Rajasthan, the Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) hit upon a novel way to demonstrate the importance of information in an individual's life -- through public hearings or Jan Sunwais. The MKSS's campaign demanded transparency of official records, a social audit of government spending and a redressal machinery for people who had not been given their due. The campaign caught the imagination of a large cross-section of people, including activists, civil servants and lawyers. 

* The Press Council of India drew up the first major draft legislation on the right to information in 1996. The draft affirmed the right of every citizen to information from any public body. Significantly, the term 'public body' included not only the State, but also all privately-owned undertakings, non-statutory authorities, companies and other bodies.

* Next came the Consumer Education Research Council (CERC) draft, by far the most detailed proposed freedom of information legislation in India. In line with international standards, it gave the right to information to anyone, except "alien enemies"

* Finally in 1997, a conference of Chief Ministers resolved that the central and state governments would work together on transparency and the right to information. Following this, the Centre agreed to take immediate steps, in consultation with the states, to introduce freedom of information legislation, along with amendments to the Official Secrets Act and the Indian Evidence Act, before the end of 1997.

* Even before the Central FOI (Freedom of Information) Act was passed some of the States introduced their own right to information legislation. The first amongst these was Tamil Nadu (1997), which was followed by Goa (1997), Rajasthan (2000), Karnataka (2000), Delhi (2001), Maharashtra (2002), Assam (2002), Madhya Pradesh (2003) and Jammu & Kashmir (2004). 

* The Freedom of Information Act 2002 (FOIA) was passed in December 2002 by the Government of India and received the Presidential assent in January 2003. This legislation was to be uniformly applicable all over the country. But, the provisions of the Act was criticised by the Civil Society, calling it ineffective.

According to [inside]Safeguarding the Right to Information-Interim Findings of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008[/inside], October 2008, conducted by RTI Assessment & Analysis Group (RaaG) and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) (in collaboration with other institutes/ organizations),

http://rti-assessment.org/interim_report.pdf

• The Right to Information Act suffers from the problems of a weak infrastructure and public information officers (PIOs) who are unaware of their exact role. Almost half the PIOs interviewed in rural India said they were not aware that they were PIOs

• An overwhelming number of PIOs—nodal officers who receive and dispense with RTI applications — cite lack of training and unfamiliarity with the law as key hurdles in their ability to effectively service RTI requests

• The RTI Act has made a positive impact on the lives of people like no other Act has done before. More and more people are filing RTI queries to procure information, which was earlier denied by government officials.

• The government responds, though sometimes slowly. Of the total RTI applications filed, nearly two-thirds got a response from the public authorities. However, only a third of these applications were responded to within the stipulated 30 days.

• Meghalaya was “the worst performer” with no PIOs found at the village level, while Rajasthan was “the best performer” with nearly all PIOs available and interviewed. The other major finding of the study was that more men than women were using RTI across the country. Rural applicants were overwhelmingly male. And the same goes for Delhi, where over three-fourths of 162 randomly selected applicants surveyed were male

• In Maharashtra, the Act has been a success with around 3.7 lakh citizens filing RTI queries in the last three years. RTI activists and citizens, however, say the growing pendency of second appeals is cause for concern.

International best practices on RTI
  • "Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and … the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the UN is consecrated."
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted by the General Assembly in 1966, which guarantees right to freedom of opinion.
  • In 1993, the UN Commission on Human Rights established the office of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression. Part of the Special Rapporteur's mandate is to clarify the precise content of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • In 1980, the Commonwealth Law Ministers meeting in Barbados stated "public participation in the democratic and governmental process was at its most meaningful when citizens had adequate access to official information".
  • In March 1999, the Commonwealth Expert Group Meeting in London adopted a document setting out a number of guidelines on the right to know and freedom of information as a human right
  • Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development first recognised the fact that access to information on the environment, including information held by public authorities, is the key to sustainable development and effective public participation in environmental governance.
  • Agenda 21, the 'Blueprint for Sustainable Development', the companion implementation document to the Rio Declaration, states: "Individuals, groups and organisations should have access to information relevant to environment and development held by national authorities, including information on products and activities that have or are likely to have a significant impact on the environment, and information protection measures."
  • At the national level, several countries have laws, which codify, at least in part, Article 10 of the Rio Declaration.
  • In 1998, as a follow-up to the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, Member States of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the European Union signed the legally binding Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention).
  • Sweden's Freedom of the Press Act required the disclosure of official documents upon request.
  • Another country with a long history of freedom of information legislation is Colombia, whose 1888 Code of Political and Municipal Organisation allowed individuals to request documents held by government agencies or in government archives.
  • The USA passed a freedom of information law in 1967; this was followed by legislation in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, all in 1982.
  • In Asia, the Philippines recognised the right to access information held by the State relatively early, passing a Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees in 1987. A Code on Access to Information was adopted in Hong Kong in March 1995, and in Thailand, the Official Information Act came into effect in December 1997. In South Korea, the Act on Disclosure of Information by Public Agencies came into effect in 1998, and in Japan, the Law Concerning Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs was enacted in April 2001.
  • South Africa remains the only African country to have actually passed freedom of information legislation.

Landmark cases on Right to Information decided by the
Supreme Court of India
  1. People’s Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) And Another, Petitioner V. Union Of India And Another, With Lok Satta And Others, V. Union Of India, 2003(001) SCW 2353 SC
  2. Union Of India V. Association For Democratic Reforms And Another, With People's Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) And Another, V. Union Of India And Another, 2002(005) SCC 0361SC
  3. Union Of India And Others, V. Motion Picture Association And Others, 1999(006) SCC 0150 SC
  4. Dinesh Trivedi, M.P. And Others V. Union Of India And Others, 1997(004) SCC 0306SC
  5. Tata Press Ltd., V. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited And Others, 1995(005) SCC 0139 SC
  6. Secretary, Ministry Of Information & Broadcasting, Govt. Of India, And Others, V. Cricket Association Of Bengal And Others, 1995(002) SCC 0161 SC
  7. Life Insurance Corporation Of India, V. Prof. Manubhai D. Shah, 1992 (003) SCC 0637 SC
  8. Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd., V. Proprietors Of Indian Express Newspapers, Bombay Pvt. Ltd. And Others, 1988 (004) SCC 0592 SC
  9. Sheela Barse, V. State Of Maharashtra, 1987 (004) SCC 0373 SC
  10. Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Private Ltd., And Others, V. Union Of India And Others, 1985 (001) SCC 0641 SC
  11. Smt. Prabha Dutt, V. Union Of India And Others, 1982 (001) SCC 0001 SC
  12. The State Of U. P., V. Raj Narain And Others, 1975 (004) SCC 0428 SC
Source: http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/ai/rti/india/cases.pdf