Seven Years of RTI: From Strength to Strength
India's landmark Right to Information Legislation is called the biggest single step since independence to build transparency in governance. However, its remarkable success is owed only to just 0.3 per cent of Indians who file RTI applications. It's anybody's guess as to what would be the impact if even one or two per cent of Indians began to ask tough questions to hold their rulers accountable. It is noteworthy that the number may be small but it is growing at a steady pace.
An assessment of the RTI law in 10 States and the Central Government by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) brings out some interesting facts and figures about the landmark law based on a study of their recent Annual Reports. (See the whole report below)
The study exposes those State Information Commissions which have defaulted for a second consecutive year to display their Annual Reports (for 2011-12) on their websites. The States are: Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Manipur, Sikkim and Tripura. Even though the next report (Jan to December 2012) is overdue, only one state government (Maharashtra) has displayed it so far. It says that most State Information Commissions are reluctant to exercise their statutory power to impose penalties or to take disciplinary actions against errant Public Information Officers.
The study entitled: The Use of Right to Information Laws in India-A Rapid Study Based on the Annual Reports of Information Commissions (2011-12) says that the number of RTI applicants amounts to only 0.5 percent of the electorate comprising of citizens aged 18 and above. The highest number of RTI applications has been rejected on the grounds of a possible breach of privacy and that most states fail to compile the number of RTI users on the basis of caste, community or gender. The highest numbers of RTI applications are filed for only five government departments and the top two happen to be the Revenue and Urban Development Departments. The Rural Development and Police Departments also figure in high in many states.
Most State Governments show their indifference in knowing how RTI is empowering the women, the dalits, the poor and the rural populace. This is corroborated by the fact that only the state of Chhattisgarh that provides gender, class (i.e. BPL), caste (i.e. SC/ST) and rural-urban break-up of the data on number of RTI applicants. For example, in Chhattisgarh, 2,351 women (4.81 percent of the total number of RTI applicants) sought information under the Central RTI Act in 2011-12. Roughly, 2.49 percent of the RTI applicants belonged to Below the Poverty Line (BPL) category. Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) accounted for 3.38 percent and 3.06 percent of the total number of RTI applications submitted in that state, respectively.
Most 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, thus, indicating that not much has changed in the mindset of bureaucracy.
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 most number of cases (537) followed by its counterpart in Maharashtra (343). The lowest recovery of penalty amounts was in Bihar (about one-fourth). Except Maharashtra State Information Commission, 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 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), http://www.im4change.org/siteadmin/http://www.im4change.or
8 years on, RTI Act counts its milestones -Shyamlal Yadav, The Indian Express, 12 October, 2013, http://www.im4change.org/latest-news-updates/8-years-on-rt
40 lakh used their right to information in 2011-12 -Anahita Mukherji, The Times of India, 12 October, 2013, http://www.im4change.org/latest-news-updates/40-lakh-used-
Taking the mass RTI road to land rights, http://www.im4change.org/news-alerts/taking-the-mass-rti-r
Move to amend RTI fires citizen protest, http://www.im4change.org/news-alerts/move-to-amend-rti-fir