Using RTI: Just 0.3 per cent of the population?

IN Media Practice | 14/10/2013
The total number of RTI applications received in Maharashtra outnumbered the total figures put out for the Central Government.
Extracts from a CHRI study

The Use of Right to Information Laws in India

A Rapid Study based on the Annual Reports of Information Commissions

(2011-12)

 

Research and Report

Venkatesh Nayak

Amrita Paul

Seema Choudhary

General Editor

Maja Daruwala

 

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)

Introduction

Last year, on 12th May, on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the adoption of the Right to Information Act by Parliament, we published our first attempt to present a comprehensive picture of the composition and working of Information Commissions established in India.1 This year, on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the operationalisation of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (12th - 13th October),2 we are presenting a snapshot view of the use of the right to information (RTI) by citizens, based on data mined from the latest Annual Reports published by the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Rajasthan on their respective websites, for the years 2011-12. We have also included in our study the Annual Report published by the State Information Commission of Jammu and Kashmir containing RTI user data for the same period.

Extracts

How many RTI applications were Filed across India?

Although the Central RTI Act is entering the ninth year of implementation, to the best of our knowledge, there is no report in the public domain about the total number of citizens who have used the RTI Act for seeking information across the country in any given year. Nor is any data available about the total number of RTI applications received by public authorities all over the country. Annual reports of Information Commissions contain data about RTI applications received and disposed only with respect to public authorities under their jurisdiction. Neither the Department of Personnel and Training under the Central Government, nor any other government institution has made the effort to compile this information. We have compiled statistics about RTI applications filed as recorded in the latest Annual Reports of Information Commissions wherever such reports are available for the period 2011-2012. However a point of caution must be noted. While many Information Commissions have adopted the financial year (April to March) as the reporting period, others such as those in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Meghalaya prepare reports for every calendar year (January-December). For the purpose of the current study we have focused on statistics about RTI applications (RTI user data) available for the period 2011-2012.[i] In order to restrict the scope of this study to a period of one year only we have not included Annual Reports published for the period 2010-11.[ii]

 

Main findings of the study: 

  • During the year 2011-12, a total of 20.27 lakh (2.02 million) RTI applications were submitted to public authorities under the Central Government and in the 9 States included in this study. If the figures available for the same year from Jammu and Kashmir are added, the total number of information requests submitted under the twin RTI laws rises to 20.39 lakhs (2.03 million). 

  • The total number of RTI applications received in Maharashtra outnumbered the total figures put out for the Central Government. However this comparative picture may be illusory because 32% of the public authorities under the Central Government are said to have defaulted in submitting complete data about the number of RTI applications received during the year 2011-12.[iii] If all public authorities had meticulously submitted their RTI returns to the Central Information Commission, the total figure for the Central Government might have been much higher than that of Maharashtra. 

  • The Secretariats or offices of the President of India and the Prime Minster, the Governors and Chief Ministers of the respective States have submitted data about the number of RTI applications received and disposed to the respective Information Commissions for publication in their annual reports. 

  • The Annual Report of the Central Information Commission does not contain any disaggregate data about the number of RTI applications received and disposed by the Secretariats of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in Parliament. Similarly no data about the receipt and disposal of RTI applications in the respective State Legislatures is available in the Annual Reports of the State Information Commissions of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. All other Information Commissions have reported this category of data. 

  • There is no information about the receipt and disposal of RTI applications in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court in the Annual Report of the Central Information Commission. The State Information Commissions of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Jammu and Kashmir have published RTI application statistics for High Courts and courts in their States . 

  • In Chhattisgarh, 2,351 women (4.81% of the total number of RTI applicants) sought information under the Central RTI Act. No other Information Commission has published data about the gender-wise breakup of the number of applicants. It is not known how many of these women applicants actually received information. In Chhattisgarh, women sought information most from the departments of Police (477), Panchayati Raj and Rural Development (275) and Urban Administration and Development (270). 

  • In Chhattisgarh, 2.49% of the RTI applicants belonged to Below the Poverty Line (BPL) category. No other Information Commission has captured this data category in its Annual Report. However how many of these BPL applicants actually received the requested information is not known. 

  • In Maharashtra, 11,246 BPL applicants (1.76% of the total no. of successful applicants) received the information they requested. However the total number of applications submitted by BPL persons during this period is not known. In terms of sheer numbers, successful BPL applicants in Maharashtra were 10 times more than the total number of BPL applicants in Chhattisgarh. 

  • The Chhattisgarh State Information Commission has also captured data about applicants from traditionally disadvantaged communities such as Scheduled Castes (SCs - 3.38%) and Scheduled Tribes (STs - 3.06%). This data provides good feedback for the State Government to focus its public education efforts towards these disadvantaged communities - a statutory requirement under Section 26(1) of the Central RTI Act.  

  • In Chhattisgarh, the only State where the urban-rural breakup of RTI applicants is available, a little more than a fifth of the applicants (21%) were living in villages. About 79% of the RTI applications were filed by urban residents. 

  • Although nothing in the RTI Act requires Information Commissions to capture the age profile of RTI applicants in their report, the user data published by the J&K State Information Commission indicates that a substantial number of information seekers in that State may be young students. The University of Kashmir is reported to have received the highest number of RTI applications (1043) during the last years 2009-12.[iv] It is reasonable to expect that a substantial number of these applicants may be young students.

  • None of the Information Commissions have published figures pertaining to urgent requests for information relating to life and liberty that public authorities must furnish within 48 hours [proviso to Section 7(1)].  

Recommendations:

  • By conservatively extrapolating the pattern of user data available in the annual reports included in this study, if we presume that a similar number of RTI applications may have been submitted in the remaining 18 States, the final figure of RTI users across the country may be estimated to cross 40 lakhs for the period 2011-12. This would be a mere 0.3% of the 120 crore (1.2 billion) population of the country. It would also amount to only 0.5% of the electorate comprising of citizens aged 18 and above. Even this estimation may not be accurate as it assumes that each of these RTI applications may have been submitted by a separate individual. In fact it is very common for persons to submit multiple applications, so the actual number of RTI users may be much lesser than this crude estimation. The Central and State Governments, the mass media and the civil society sector have their work cut out in terms of spreading awareness about the RTI Act. More resource investment is required to spread awareness about the RTI Act amongst the hundreds of crores (millions) of citizens who have not yet used this law to seek information. 

  • Both RTI laws require the respective Information Commissions to table their reports in Parliament or the respective State Legislatures to provide a detailed picture of their implementation. Parliament which enacted the Central RTI Act must make the effort to submit RTI data to the Central Information Commission regularly as its Secretariats receive several information requests every year. All State Legislatures must also submit their annual RTI returns to the respective State Information Commissions.  

  • The Supreme Court which recognised the fundamental right to information as being an inseparable part of the fundamental right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, must take the lead in submitting annual RTI returns to the Central Information Commission in a timely manner. All High Courts exercise the power of judicial review over the decisions of the Information Commissions. They must also submit annual RTI returns to the respective Information Commissions for themselves and the courts and tribunals under their jurisdiction. 

  • As a norm, all Information Commissions must make the effort to capture RTI user data about women applicants and also those belonging to other disadvantaged segments of society such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and BPL and minority communities. This data will be useful to the appropriate Governments for targeting their activities to promote awareness about the RTI laws in the manner described in Section 26(1)(a) of the RTI Act. 

  • Information Commissions must include in their Annual Reports, statistics about the number of RTI applications relating to life and liberty received and the number of instances where information was provided within 48 hours. 

Top 5 Public Authorities Receiving the Most Number of Applications 

Section 25(3)(a) of the RTI Act obligates every public authority to submit an annual report of the total number of requests received to its parent Ministry/Department. All Information

Commissions have published this data and many of them have gone a step ahead to rank the public authorities in terms of the number of times citizens approached them with information requests. The data published in the Annual Reports included in this study shows that the pattern of seeking information is not uniform across the States. Conventional wisdom presumed that ministries and departments that have the largest clientele would receive the most number of RTI applications. However the departments responsible for land records, education and health which have the largest clientele and more frequent direct dealings with the public have not always figured amongst the top three of the list of ministries/departments receiving the most number of RTI applications in all the States included in this study.  

Main findings of the study:

  • The Revenue and Urban Development Departments topped the list of departments/public authorities that received the most number of RTI applications in the States of Karnataka and Maharashtra. In Andhra Pradesh, the Chief Commissioner, Land Administration whose mandate includes functions similar to that of Revenue Departments in other States topped the list. In Karnataka the Revenue and Urban Development Departments together accounted for more than 50% of the RTI applications received. 
  • Rural Development Departments (with or without the charge of Panchayati Raj) figure amongst the top 5 in 7 other States, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, and Nagaland. [v]
  • The Police Department topped the list in Mizoram. The Home Department, including the police, topped the list in Chhattisgarh while in Maharashtra its counterpart occupied the second position. The Delhi Police and the Director General of Police in Andhra Pradesh also figure in the top 5 list. Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir are the only States where neither the Home Department nor the Police Department figures amongst the top 5. 
  • The State Public Service Commissions in Mizoram and Rajasthan figured amongst the top 5 indicating that most of the applicants might be employment seekers or serving officers.
  • The Jaipur Development Authority and the University of Kashmir are the only public authorities outside of ministries and departments that topped the list amongst all 11 jurisdictions covered by this study.
  • The Ministry of Finance received more than a fifth (20.41%) of the total number of RTI applications submitted to various public authorities under the Central Government. This figure appears so large because this Ministry covers a large number of autonomous institutions such as banks and insurance companies. Individually speaking the Department of Posts stood first in terms of number of RTI applications received by a public authority.[vi] That the Employees Provident Fund Organisation stood second in the ranking indicates that a large number of applicants are employed with the Central Government or its agencies.
  • The Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi received more than 10% of the total number of RTI Applications accounted for in the Central Information Commission’s Annual Report.

Recommendations:

  • Ministries, departments and public authorities receiving the highest number of RTI applications must analyse the kinds of information citizens are seeking from them. This would help them identify the categories of information frequently sought by citizens which could then be disclosed and disseminated proactively through various methods listed under Section 4(4) of both the RTI laws unless one or more exemptions listed under Sections 8, 9, 11 and 24 are attracted. This would go a long way In reducing the burden of RTI applications on the public information officers.

  • Some of the Information Commissions have reported a small number of public authorities that did not receive any RTI application at all during the year. The reasons for this phenomenon could be varied: they maybe volunteering information so extensively, that citizens have no need to seek information in a formal manner, or, their clientele may simply not be aware of their rights under the RTI laws. Given the miniscule number of citizens using the RTI laws as indicated above, the latter explanation may most probably be true for several public authorities. It is advisable for the nodal departments for implementing the RTI laws to undertake a study of the reasons for this phenomenon in these public authorities and launch public education and awareness raising programmes about people’s right to information.

Complete report available, as an attachment, at:

http://www.rtiindia.org/forum/116029-chris-report-status-rti-india-2011-2012-a.html



[i] It is unfortunate that even though Central RTI Act binds all 28 Information Commissions they have not adopted a uniform reporting period. Similarly the J&K State Information Commission has adopted the financial year as the index for its reports.

[ii] Some Information Commissions have reported statistics of pending RTI applications carried over from the year previous to the period covered by this study. We will include these figures when we come up with a more detailed report on the working of Information Commissions later, when the Annual Reports of all Information Commissions are displayed on their websites.

[iii] The Annual Report of the Central Information Commission  contain two figures for the total number of RTI applications received during the year 2011-12 : one based on reporting of RTI data by public authorities for all four quarters of that year and the other based on reporting of RTI data by public authorities for at least one quarter.We have taken the larger figure as it is nearer to the total number of RTI applications received which remains a mystery as about 32% of the public authorities under the Central Government did not file any statistical report with the Commission. We have also not included in these figures data about pending RTI applications from the previous year carried over to the next year due to this study’s self-imposed limitation of focusing on only one year during the period 2011-12.

[iv] The Annual Report of the J&K State Information Commission ranks the public authorities on the basis of the most number of RTI applications received during all three years of the implementation of the J&K RTI Act i.e., from 2009-12. The year-wise breakups are not provided in the report. Nevertheless the combined data presents an interesting variation in rankings compared with public authorities in other States listed above. The percentages are calculated on the basis of the total number of RTI applications received over all three years i.e., 15,987 in all.

[v] CHRI is happy to report that it resourced training workshops in five of these States (except Maharashtra) for heads of departments, public information officers and first appellate authorities.

 
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