By Venkatesh Nayak*
India’s Right to Information Act (RTI Act) will enter the 12th year of implementation on the 12th of October, this year. Information Commissions established under this law have an obligation to report on the manner of implementation of the law to the respective legislatures. Not all Information Commissions come out with their Annual Reports in a timely manner. A major reason for the delays in the preparation of the annual reports is lack of inputs from the public authorities through their parent ministries and departments. Although the Information Commissions are known to press upon the respective Governments to fulfill their reporting obligations, compliance is poor.
This year too, CHRI finds that there are only a handful of annual reports published for the latest year due. As a result, it is difficult to answer the most basic question – how many RTI applications are received from citizens all over the country in a given year. Similarly there is no clarity about the number of RTI applications received in any year since the RTI Act became fully operational because some information commissions have not published any annual report.
CHRI has collated data about RTI applications from all the annual reports of the Information Commissions available on their websites. Some of our major findings are:
- A total of 1.75 crore (1,75,23,154) RTI applications are reported to have been made to the Central and State Governments during the period 2005-2015;
- Top-3: The Central Government received more than a quarter (27.20% i.e., 47.66 lakhs) of the 1.75 crore requests submitted by citizens between 2005-2015 (financial year). The Government of Maharashtra also received more than a quarter (26.40% i.e., 46.26 lakhs) of the RTI applications submitted during this period. The Government of Karnataka received 11.83% (i.e., 20.73 lakhs) of the RTI applications submitted during this period. Taken together, the Central Government and the State Governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka account for almost 2/3rds(65.43%) of the RTI applications received from the citizenry, between the years 2005-2015.
- Counting the RTI statistics published by 15 Information Commissions during the period 2013-2015(taking into account statistics available only for the latest year) a total of 60 lakh RTI requests were made by citizens during a period of one year. By a conservative extrapolation of this data to other States which have not published annual reports during the same period, it may be estimated said that the total number of RTI requests submitted across the country in a year during this period could be about 53-56 lakhs. Based on official figures we stand by our conservative estimate despite other RTI activists pegging the figure at 75-80 lakh RTI applications per year.
- None of the Information Commissions that follow the financial year reporting cycle, have published their Annual Reports for the year 2015-16.
- Amongst the Information Commissions that follow the calendar year reporting cycle, only Meghalaya and Sikkim have published their Annual Reports for the year 2015.
- The Karnataka Information Commission is the only body that has published online, all annual reports due, since October, 2005.
There is an urgent need to ensure the publication of annual reports in the larger States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Without data from these States which have a large number of RTI users and activists, it is not possible to draw a more accurate statistical picture of the volume of RTI applications filed across the country. RTI users and activists must work with their legislators to question their Governments about the delay in the publication of annual reports wherever they are overdue.
There is also an urgent need to bring about uniformity in the manner of reporting RTI statistics. Some Information Commissions report according to the calendar year while others use the financial year reporting cycle. If a uniform reporting cycle is adopted, it will be possible to arrive at a more accurate statistical picture of the manner of implementation of the RTI Act across the country.
*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi