Are one per cent of Indians using RTI?

BY HOOT| IN Special Reports | 29/10/2015
A decade of RTI, Part II---How many Indians are using their right to information? Studies suggest that the figure of users has yet to cross one per cent of the population in a given year, but there could be substantial under-reporting.
A HOOT analysis
Millions of applications are now received each year

 

More than eight million Right to Information applications are being made now, 10 years after the law was introduced. That’s the figure that was given by Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan of  Rajasthan on the 10th anniversary of the RTI Act at an event in Delhi on October 14. Roy’s organization played a key role in the fight for this right. The figure led us to a quest to find out how many people are actually using the central or state RTI acts in a year.

Despite the infirmities in implementation, even the humblest citizens of India have woken up to the power that these laws confer on them. RTI activist Subhash Agarwal said on a recent NDTV programme that it has given more power to the citizen than to the parliamentarian. But power only comes with use so how many applications are made each year? And given that many file multiple applications, how many users do the figures represent?

A decade of use has not resulted in comprehensive updated statistics being available.  Both the Central Information Commission (CIC) to which the central government departments report and the State Information Commissions (SIC) generate usage figures but both are handicapped when the government departments and public authorities reporting to them do not send the numbers on applications received.

NGOs tracking the application of the RTI law have carried out sample surveys  from which estimates can be derived on numbers, and who the applicants are.

According to the CIC, the total number of application received per year are as follows:

Year

No of Applications

2009-10

626748

2010-2011

437744

2011-2012

705976

2012-2013

886681

2013-2014

962630

In other words in the last year for which figures are available, it was less than a million.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) which tracks trends in the use of the RTI across India uses both CIC and SIC figures to arrive at estimates about the number of applications filed across India. A recent study by the CHRI which sampled 12 states was titled “The Use of Right to Information Laws in India: A Rapid Study , October 2013, New Delhi”.

Some of the main findings of this study give RTI application statistics from across the country and offer several interesting nuggets:

  •  Data culled out from the annual reports of the CIC and 12 SICs indicate that a total of 24.77 lakh (2.47 million) applications were filed in those jurisdictions in a given year between 2012-14. In 2013 the total number of RTI applications that CHRI reported was 20.39 lakhs (2.03 million) based on data available up to the time of writing that report.

  •   As some more SICs have published their reports for that period subsequently, the revised figure stands at 24.94 lakhs (2.49 million).

  •  By extrapolating from this data, it can be conservatively estimated that about 45-50 lakh (4.5 to 5.0 million) RTI applications may have been filed in various jurisdictions across the country during a 12-month period between 2012-14. The actual figure may be closer to 50 lakhs because several states where RTI is being used very prolifically, such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, have not reported their RTI applications statistics for the period under scrutiny in this report.

  • On the national scale the proportion of RTI users during an year between 2012-14 may will be between 0.37% - 0.41% of the population (of 121 crores/1.2 billion). As a proportion of the electorate  - aged 18 years and above - between 0.5% - 0.6% of them might have used the RTI laws. Despite a decade of the Central RTI Act being in existence and the J&K RTI Act being in existence for more than five years, the proportion of RTI users has not risen to even 0.5% of the population or even 1% of the electorate.

  •  The Central Government tops the list of jurisdictions receiving the most number of RTI applications in 2013-14 at 8.34 lakhs (73% public authorities reporting). Maharashtra comes in second with 7.03 lakh applications received in 2014 followed by Karnataka in 3rd place with 4.25,  Gujarat at 4th place with 1.72 lakh, and Rajasthan taking 5th place with 1.40 lakh RTI applications.  

  •  Public authorities in the Central Government and the State Government of Maharashtra received 62% of the RTI applications filed across the 12 jurisdictions for which data is available and used in this study. RTI users in Maharashtra constitute about 0.6% of the population (11.2 crores/112 million). As a proportion of the electorate - aged 18 and above (8.07 crores/80.71 million) - 0.87% of them are RTI users. This is the closest that any state has come to the 1% desirable benchmark of RTI users during the last 10 years.

  • The number of RTI applicants in J&K increased 127% in 2012-13 as compared to the previous year – the highest amongst all states which have reported their RTI statistics for the period 2012-13. This development augurs well for a state which has been riddled by conflict because it demonstrates the faith of people in constitutional and democratic methods of holding the public authorities accountable.

  • With 1.40 lakh RTI applications filed in 2013-14, Rajasthan recorded almost double (97% increase) the number of requests reported in the previous year.

  • Gujarat has reported a 41% increase in the number of RTI applicants in 2013-14 while Karnataka has witnessed a 31% increase in the number of RTI applications at 4.25 during the same period as compared to the previous year.

  • Odisha is the only state which has reported a decline in the number of RTI applications. Here, 52,305 requests were filed in 2011-12. This number fell by 17.76% to 43,011 in 2012-13. Himachal Pradesh also reported an 18% decline in the number of RTI applications filed in 2012-13 (61,202) as compared to the previous year. This could be due partly to a 16.6% decline in the number of public authorities (110) reporting their RTI statistics to the SIC as compared to 2011-12 (132 public authorities).


Extrapolating the total number

To return then to the question of the 8 million applications which Aruna Roy gave as an estimate, this figure has been extrapolated from this CHRI study. If in 10 sample states and the Central Government, over 2 million RTI applications were filed in 2011-12 and this sample covered less than half the states in India, it would not be an overestimate to put the national total at four million for 2011-12.

The figure of 2 million RTI applications was based on the figures reported by Information Commissions in their annual reports. The figure of 8 million RTI applications was over 2 years. 

However, there is also the question of under reporting to be accounted for. Former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi  in comments made for this article estimates under-reporting to the extent of 40% based on two factors:

1. I had seen that in the CIC various significant public authorities like the Municipal Corporation of Delhi did not send a report of the number of RTI applications. Hence my guess is that there is at least a underreporting, which would raise the figure of RTI applications from 2.5 million to about 3.5 million.

2. I had done some estimate of the population of the states who had reported. The population represented by the reporting states (in the CHRI study) was less than 50% of the population of India. Hence my estimate of applications being nearly double. Based on this, I guessed that the total RTI applications was likely to be about 6 to 8 million. However, many of the regular RTI users are likely to make multiple applications in a year. There are, of course, a very large number who may file only one RTI application. Hence I feel we could assume the average RTI applications per user to be about 3. This would lead to a conclusion of about 2 to 3 million users.” 

Gandhi adds that it would be fair to say that over the decade the total applications are likely to have been over 20 million which may have been made by about 0.6 to 0.7 million separate citizens. “I agree these are guesstimates, but given our extremely poor ways of data collection and collation, we cannot get greater accuracy. The most important change is in citizen empowerment, and I had the opportunity to witness this closely for nearly four years,” he said

 

Who is using the Act?

What does the data from the studies say about who the applicants are? The CHRI study gives some clues:

  • Only two SICs have captured the gender break up of RTI applicants. In Chhattisgarh women constituted 6.9% of the RTI applicants while in Nagaland they comprise 2.53% of the applicants. None of the other ICs including the CIC have captured gender breakups in their annual reports. The available data shows that the proportion of women among RTI applicants could be significantly lower than the 8% figure reported in the RAAG-2 report published last year.

  • In Maharashtra, individuals from BPL families constituted 1.11% of the total number of RTI applicants, while in Chhattisgarh this proportion was 4.16%, and Mizoram and Nagaland have reported 3 and 9 BPL applicants respectively. No other state has captured the economic profile of the RTI applicants.

  •  In Chhattisgarh, 6.37% of the RTI applicants belonged to the Scheduled Castes. This proportion has nearly doubled since 2013. RTI applicants from the Scheduled Tribes constitute 5.5% of the total. In 2013 they constituted only 3.06% of the total. No other state has captured the caste profile of RTI applicants in this manner. The steady increase in the absolute numbers as well as in terms of percentage augurs well for the success of the RTI Act as it is primarily aimed at empowering the disadvantaged segments of society.
     
  • In Chhattisgarh, the only state which continues to capture the urban-rural breakup of RTI applicants in its annual reports, less than a fifth of the applicants (19.85%) lived in villages. This proportion has reduced from 21% in 2012 even though there was a 21% rise in the number of RTI applications received across the state.

 

More details about the users

The Centre for Equity Studies headed by Harsh Mander has done the major study available on who uses the Act. The RAAG RTI study (RTI Assessment and Advocacy Group of the Samya-Centre for Equity Studies) is available here.  

 

Urban-rural divide

Their data shows that more than half the urban applicants and all of the rural applicants were from among those living below the poverty line (BPL). In fact, 2% of the urban and 90% of the rural applicants belonged to this category.

Only 14% of the applicants were from rural areas, even though over 70% of India’s population lives in rural areas. Though the sample might have a bias in favour of urban areas, even after adjusting for such a bias, the proportion is too small. Awareness levels about the RTI also seem low in rural areas.

Also, copies of RTI applications were accessed from sample public authorities in the sample districts and state headquarters (see Chapter 2 on methodology, for list), and a sample of 987 RTI applications were analysed - about 200 from each of the three states, the union territory of Delhi, and the Central Government. Based on the addresses of the applicants, a determination was made of whether they lived in rural areas or in towns, cities, or metropolises.

 

Rural users of the Act

Please see the report for more details on methodology, but these are the operative paras:

The rural research teams sought out and interviewed, in each of the 24 randomly selected villages, all the individuals who had filed an RTI application in 2011-13 and could be identified and located. A total of 12 RTI applicants from these villages were interviewed, giving a density of 0.5 applicants per village. By extrapolation, given that there are about 600,000 villages in India, there would be an estimated 300,000 RTI applicants from the villages of India over the two years, or 150,000 rural applicants per year.

However, it must be remembered that the 12 applicants interviewed were the minimum number, for there must have been others that the rural research teams could not identify or contact. A much higher proportion was suggested by another estimate, based on an analysis of the addresses of 987 RTI applicants who filed RTI applications during 2011-13. This analysis showed 14% of the applicants lived in rural areas and the remaining 86% lived in urban areas (for details see Table 5.1 below).

Using the earlier mentioned Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) estimate and our resultant extrapolation that 4 million RTI applications were filed in 2011-12, the figure comes to about 560,000 rural RTI applications filed per annum.

 

Poor awareness of the RTI Act, particularly in rural areas

 There is poor awareness about the RTI Act, worse in rural areas than in urban areas. In 64% of the rural focus group discussions and 62% of urban focus group discussions, no participant had heard of the RTI Act. However, in the state headquarters and in Delhi, 61% of the respondents interviewed through street corner interviews said that they had heard of it.

 

Women play little or no role  

The participation of women in the RTI process, especially as applicants, has been minimal, with a national average of 8%, and two states - Assam and Rajasthan - recording 4%. Bihar recorded an abysmal 1%, though with a truncated sample. Many reasons can be attributed for this gender imbalance but there is no scientific understanding of why so few women file applications. If RTI is a means of empowerment, then there should be a special focus on ensuring that women are aware of the RTI Act and willing and able to use it.

 

The departments which receive the most applications?

The highlights of the  CHRI study contradict conventional wisdom which presumes that ministries and departments that have the largest clientele will receive the greatest number of RTI applications. 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 RTI applications in all the states included in the CHRI study. The main findings:

  •   The Revenue and Urban Development Departments topped the list of departments/public authorities that received the most applications in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In Karnataka, the Revenue and Urban Development Departments together accounted for more than 50% of the applications received.

  • The 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.

  • 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.

  • The Jaipur Development Authority and the University of Kashmir are the only public authorities outside of ministries and departments in their respective states that topped the list amongst all 11 jurisdictions covered by this study.

  • The Ministry of Finance covering many other public authorities such as banks and insurance companies received more than a fifth (20.41%) of the total number of RTI applications submitted to various public authorities under the Central Government. Individually speaking, the Department of Posts stood first in terms of number of RTI applications received by a public authority.

  • 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.

 

 

 

 

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