40 lakh used their right to information in 2011-12 -Anahita Mukherji
-The Times of India
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an independent organisation closely associated with the RTI legislation, data-mined annual reports filed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) and 10 State Information Commissions that had released their annual reports on their website -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Rajasthan, as well as Jammu and Kashmir, which is governed by its own RTI Act.
While 20.39 lakh applications were submitted to public authorities under the Central government and the 10 states studied, CHRI used this data to calculate the presumed number of applicants in the remaining 18 states, arriving at a conservative estimate of 40 lakh.
While there has been much cynicism over information denied by public authorities under RTI, the data tells a different story. Less than 10% of all RTI queries recorded have faced rejection.
The highest number of rejections was by public bodies under the Central government and those in Maharashtra, both of which received around 6.5 lakh queries each.
States with less population, such as Meghalaya and Mizoram, had a rejection rate of less than 1%. Other large states like Karnataka, with 2.93 lakh RTI requests, rejected only 0.3% of these. Despite a phenomenal increase in RTI applications in J&K, the rejection rate declined from 9% in 2009-10 to 4% in 2010-11. It now stands at 1.37% in 2011-12. The University of Kashmir received the highest number of RTI applications compared to any other public body in the state in the period 2009-12.
The dampener, though, is that high-profile authorities such as the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Directorate General of Safeguards rejected virtually all applications they received.
And while the absolute number of RTI applicants may seem very high, they form a mere 0.3% of the population and 0.5% of the electorate. But Venkatesh Nayak, programmes officer at CHRI and author of the report on RTI, feels 40 lakh applications in a country with limited internet penetration is an achievement. "No country besides the US would have such a large number of people using one transparency law. While research shows the US Freedom of Information Act is used largely by individuals to procure information that personally benefits them, in India, many people file RTIs that are in the public interest," adds Nayak. He feels the high number of applications despite the murder of nearly 25 RTI activists over eight years is a promising trend.
For CHRI director Maja Daruwala, RTI has helped bring about a shift in the mindset of public officials. "While officials earlier believed they could get away withholding information, there is now a fear of the risks involved in denying information under the RTI Act," says Daruwala, pointing to the increasing, though partial compliance among public authorities with the Act.