By Venkatesh Nayak*
The Annual Report of the Central Information Commission (CIC) for the year 2014-15 is out. While the soft copy is not yet uploaded on the CIC’s website, I obtained a hard copy from the office of the CIC on request. Our preliminary findings based on the latest Annual Report in comparison with similar reports of previous years are given below.
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. The 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% submitted their annual RTI returns to the CIC in 2014-15. The highest percentage of reporting – 89.23% 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. 79% 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 was received by the reporting public authorities in 2014-15. This is about 79,000 fewer RTI applications received in 2013-14. The CIC reports 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% in 2014-15. While only 7.20% of the RTI applications was rejected in 2013-14, this figure has increased to 8.40% in 2014-15. This is cause for worry and must be examined. On the face of it, this comparative figure appears to support the anecdotal experiences of many an RTI user/activist 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 of exemptions under the RTI Act to reject information requests. More than 35% of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act in 2014-15. About 20% 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 bySection 8(1)(e) relating to information made available in a fiduciary relationship (14.6%). About 6.1% of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 8(1)(h) which exempts access to information if disclosure will impede 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% of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 24 relating to the 25 exempt 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% 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% in this category as compared to the previous year (para 2.4.5 on page 12) whereas a comparison between the figures for 2013-14 and 2014-15 under “others” category clearly shows an increase of 6.2% 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% 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 8.40% at the stage of the Public Information Officer (PIO), the proportion of first appeals filed stands at 11.78% indicating a more than 3% 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. 739,000) on errant PIOs in 2014-15. This figure has reduced drastically by 61% 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% 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 Sectt. received 2,816 RTI applications in 2014-15 marking a decline of more than 8% over 2013-14. The proportion of rejection in 2014-15 was also lesser at 9.30% 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% 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 22.10% in 2014-15 as compared with 20.50% in 2013-14. While the PMO rejected only 14 RTI applications under the grounds permissible in the RTI Act, it rejected 99% 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: Cab. Sectt. received 1,061 RTI applications in 2014-15 marking an increase of 13.78% over the previous year. The proportion of rejection has fallen drastically to 4.3% in 2014-15 as compared to 15.10% 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 Cab Sectt. 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% fewer RTI applications in 2014-15 as compared to the previous year. The proportion of rejection also fell from 7% in 2013-14 to 6.3% 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% over the previous year. The proportion of rejection has remained steady at 0.10% since 2011-12.
6) Ministry of Personnel, Pubic Grievances and Pensions: The Ministry of Personnel 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% over the figures reported in 2013-14. However the Dept. 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% of the RTI applications in 2014-15. This shows a marker decline from 14.50% during 2013-14. 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 theproportion of rejection has increased by 1% in 2014-15 (20.20%) as compared to the previous year. The rejection under “others” category also witnessed a marked increase of 8.6% 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%over the previous year. More than 42% of these RTI applications were received by the Delhi Police which comes under this Ministry (see #12 below). The proportion of rejection in 2014-15 has also increased to almost 16% as compared to 14.20% 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% 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% to almost 16% in 2014-15. 2014-15 witnessed an increase of 31% in the number of instances of RTI applications being rejected under “others’ category.
It is to be noted that the Hon’ble Defence Minister was himself an avid RTI user while he was in the Opposition in Goa. One would have expected a lower rejection rate from the Ministry of Defence under his leadership. However it is necessary to study the nature and contents of the RTI applications rejected by the Defence Ministry before anything conclusive can be said about the manner of treatment they have received by the PIOs.
10) Ministry of External Affairs: The Foreign Ministry witnessed a marked decline of more than 26% in the number of RTI applications received in 2014-15. The proportion of rejections has also increased from 4% in 2013-14 to 7% in 2014-15. However, the number of rejections under “others” category fell by almost 54% in 2014-15 as compared to the previous year.
11) Delhi High Court: In our study of the CIC’s Annual Report published widely last year we had 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% 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% fewer RTI applications (29,927) in 2014-15 as compared with the previous year. The rate of rejection has fallen conspicuously from 9.20% in 2013-14 to 7.30% 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, Rahstriya Mahila Kosh, Staff Selection Commission, etc.
*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi