By Venkatesh Nayak*
Readers will remember our previous efforts to collate data about the use of RTI laws and the working of Information Commissions across India. This year, we mark the 25th anniversary of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s (CHRI’s) work in India by releasing the Rapid Review 4.0 (previously named Rapid Study) of the State of Information Commissions and Use of RTI Laws across India. The full report of our Rapid Review 4.0 (click HERE) was released at the Open Consultation on the Future of RTI: Challenges and Opportunities that we held at New Delhi on March 13. Our major findings are given below:
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% (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% 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% 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% of the Information Commissions are headed by retired civil servants. More than 43% 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% 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% 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; and
- 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; and
- 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% in 2016-17 after the peak scaled during the previous year. West Bengal’s figures rose and dipped to less than 62% of the peak reached in 2010 but a rising trend has been reported in 2015.
*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi