Safeguarding the Right to Information: Report of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008 in India

17 July 2009

A Comprehensive Look at the Implementation and Use of India’s RTI Act

New Delhi, India  In the first two years of access-to-information implementation in India, about 1.6 million requests for information were made in urban areas, while an additional 400,000 applications were made in the rural villages. Taking such a large-scale access-to-information regime head on, Safeguarding the Right to Information: Report of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008 is the first broad-based, nation-wide study of RTI implementation and usage in India.

Researchers at the RTI Assessment & Analysis Group (RaaG) and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information conducted over 17,000 interviews and 630 focus groups and filed over 800 RTI requests across the country. The sample comprised 10 states and Delhi, with 3 districts in each state and 8 villages in each district selected randomly. The assessment creates a comprehensive profile for RTI users, identifying trends in usage among both urban and rural inhabitants across the socioeconomic spectrum.

The report evaluates and challenges the overriding belief held by government officials that the information act is primarily used only by the educated and privileged, or by aggrieved government employees who used the RTI Act to redress their grievances, particularly with regard to promotions, postings, and disciplinary actions. The study’s findings do not support either claim.

In addition, the report assesses the progress in the implementation of India’s RTI Act, identifies the perspectives of government officials, and examines trends in media coverage on access-to-information issues. Researchers identify significant constraints on India’s RTI system by following the lifecycle of an information request, addressing issues such as limited government resources, discouragement from public information officers (PIOs), and the lack of financial independence for information commissioners.

Some of the assessments findings include:

  • 65% of inhabitants in both rural and urban areas agreed that access to information would significantly help them solve many of their basic problems.
  • 45% of randomly selected urban inhabitants claimed they were aware of the RTI Act, but only 20% of the focus groups organized in villages included one or more persons that knew about the RTI Act.
  • 90% of rural applicants and 85% of urban applicants were male.
  • Among rural participants, 30% of sample applicants belonged to the economic weaker class of society, having a below-poverty-line (BPL) or an Antyodaya ration card. Among urban applicants, 15% of sample applicants were considered below the poverty line.
  • Troublingly, penalties were imposed for only 1.4% of the cases where a penalty should have been levied in a much higher percentage of cases, simply for delayed release of information.
  • 75% of the information commissioners in the sample admitted that they were not financially independent.

LINKS

Safeguarding the Right to Information: Report of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008 (executive summary)

For more information, including questionnaires, methodology, and detailed reports, go to RTI Assessment & Analysis Group (RaaG)

National Campaign for People’s Right to Information

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