Study Details Weaknesses in Indian RTI Implementation

7 July 2014

Tens of thousands of right to information appeals are pending in India, according to a comprehensive study published by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

More than 66,000 appeals and complaints cases were pending in the only six information commissions where data was available.

The Central Information Commission had a total of 21,946 appeals and complaints as of May 2014. In the state of Maharashtra there were 34,158 matters pending, the worst of the 27 states.

In most states there was no data available, a theme found in the answers to many of the questions posed in the study.

The 73-page CHRI report provides a wealth of data on activity at the federal and state level, finding some signs of improvements since a previous study two years ago, but also documenting many problem areas. The report includes recommendations.

Request Levels Rising

Many commissions have not published annual reports, making it hard to identify the numbers of requests being made, but in the states where data was available it appears that request levels appear to be zooming up.

Public authorities under the central government received 8,11,350 RTI applications during the period 2012-13, a 19% increase from the previous reporting period – 6,55,572 reported in 2011-12.

“It is difficult to treat this as a real rise in the number of requests because the proportion of public authorities reporting RTI data to the CIC has improved from 68% to 79% this year,” according to the report, adding, “So the percentage rise in the number of requests might be much smaller indicating a plateauing of the trend of submission of RTI applications.”

Among the six states for which figures are given, the rates increase range from 46 percent in Gujarat to 16 percent in Andhra Pradesh.

Vacancies Down

The level of vacant information commissioner jobs (138 of them) has gone down from 30 percent in 2012, when a previous study was done, to 14.6 percent.

Only one chief information commissioner is a woman. Nationwide about 12 percent of the commissioners are women.

Ninety percent of the information commissions at the central and state level continue to be headed by retired civil servants.

The study examines recent appointments, saying two persons appear to be unqualified.

Online Access Limited

Only 17% of the information commissions provide online facilities for submitting appeals or complaints or both.

While the CIC and the state commissions of Gujarat and Tripura accept online filing of both, appeals and complaints, their counterpart in Bihar provides this facility for filing second appeals only.

More than three-fourths of the commissions do not have a website in the local language, the study says.

Schedule Lists Slightly Improved

About 58 percent of the information commissions displayed “cause lists” on their websites that indicate when matters will be scheduled for hearing, only a small improvement from several years before.

Less than half (48%) of the commissions display the current status of pending appeals and complaints cases.

The Central Information Commission and the state information commissions of Maharashtra and Uttarakhand are the only commissions that have displayed figures regarding disposal of appeals and complaints cases on their websites up to May 2014. 58% of the information commissions do no display information about disposal of cases and pendency of appeals and complaints.

Nineteen of the information commissions have uploaded on their websites their decisions on appeals and complaints cases disposed in 2014. In 2012 only 13 provided such a facility.

Also see an article about the study in The Times of India.

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