17 March, 2016
By Venkatesh Nayak
The Annual Report of the Central Information Commission (CIC) for the year 2014-15 is out. While the soft copy is not yet uploaded on the CIC's website, I obtained a hard copy from the office of the CIC on request. Our preliminary findings based on the latest Annual Report in comparison with similar reports of previous years can be accessed here.
Major findings from the aggregated statistics:
Trends in RTI statistics reporting: Only 2,030 public authorities under the Government of India registered to submit their RTI returns under Section 25 of The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) in 2014-15. The most number of public authorities registered for any reporting year was in 2012-13 at 2,333. Of the 2,030 registered public authorities, 75.27% submitted their annual RTI returns to the CIC in 2014-15. The highest percentage of reporting - 89.23% was in the first three months of the implementation of the RTI Act in 2005. However only 938 public authorities had registered themselves with the CIC that year. 2012-13 saw much better compliance in comparison with the total number of public authorities registered. 79% of the 2,333 public authorities submitted their RTI statistics to the CIC that year.
Trends in the receipt of RTI applications: A total of 7.55 lakh (755,247) RTI applications was received by the reporting public authorities in 2014-15. This is about 79,000 fewer RTI applications received in 2013-14. The CIC reports notes this decline in the number of RTIs received (para 2.4.2 @ page 10). However almost 90,000 RTI applications were pending decision at the start of the reporting year of 2014-15.
Trend in rejections: The proportion of rejection of RTI applications has shot up by 1.2% in 2014-15. While only 7.20% of the RTI applications was rejected in 2013-14, this figure has increased to 8.40% in 2014-15. This is cause for worry and must be examined. On the face of it, this comparative figure appears to support the anecdotal experiences of many an RTI user/activist that the public authorities under the Government of India have begun rejecting more and more RTI applications under the NDA regime. However this trend requires deeper analysis to ascertain whether the rejections were justified under the law or were simply anti-transparency bureaucratic responses.
Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act exempting personal information continues to be the most invoked of exemptions under the RTI Act to reject information requests. More than 35% of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act in 2014-15. About 20% of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 8(1)(d) which exempts information in the nature of commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property- making it the 2nd most invoked exemption followed bySection 8(1)(e) relating to information made available in a fiduciary relationship (14.6%). About 6.1% of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 8(1)(h) which exempts access to information if disclosure will impede an investigation, trial or arrest of offenders. Parliamentary privilege [Section 8(1)(c)] was the least invoked of exemptions - only 86 RTI applications were rejected under this clause. However this may not include the data from the twin Secretariats of Parliament as they do not seem to have submitted their RTI statistics to the CIC. About 11.8% of the RTI applications were rejected under Section 24 relating to the 25 exempt organisations under Schedule 2 of the RTI Act. For the purpose of the calculation of percentages in this para, only rejections under Sections 8, 9, 11 & 24 of the RTI Act are included as they are the only valid grounds for rejection of an RTI application.
The proportion of RTI applications rejected for reasons other than Sections 8, 9 (private copyright), 11 (third party) and 24 seems to be ever growing. It stood at 28,444 marking an increase of more than 6% as compared to 2013-14. In previous years, the CIC had called for a deeper examination of this problem as the RTI Act does not permit the rejection of RTI applications for any other reason. In the 2014-15 Annual Report, the CIC does not even comment on this phenomenon. Strangely, the CIC states that the increase is only 1% in this category as compared to the previous year (para 2.4.5 on page 12) whereas a comparison between the figures for 2013-14 and 2014-15 under "others" category clearly shows an increase of 6.2% even though fewer public authorities registered and reported their RTI statistics to the CIC.
Trends in 1st appeals: During 2014-15, 86,944 first appeals were filed with various public authorities under GoI. 96% of them are said to have been disposed of during the same year. However when compared with the total number of rejections (Sections, 8, 9, 11, 24 & "others" included) at 8.40% at the stage of the Public Information Officer (PIO), the proportion of first appeals filed stands at 11.78% indicating a more than 3% increase. This shows that a large number of RTI applicants were dissatisfied with the responses of the PIOs even though they did not invoke any exemption to reject their RTI applications.
Trends in 2nd appeals and complaints received and disposed by the CIC: The CIC received 35,396 appeals and complaints cases in 2014-15. The CIC decided 20,181 cases during the year. 37,323 cases were pending before the CIC as on 1st April 2015. Interestingly, the CIC does not provide any data about how it decided these cases- in how many cases the appeal or complaint was upheld and information ordered to be disclosed and in how many the appeal/complaint was rejected. This continuing trend of lack of publication of data about the outcome of the cases decided by the CIC year after year is preventing any informed discussion on whether the CIC is ordering disclosure of information more and more or otherwise.
Trends in penalties imposed by the CIC: The CIC imposed penalties to the tune of more than Rs. 7 lakhs (Rs. 739,000) on errant PIOs in 2014-15. This figure has reduced drastically by 61% when compared with the imposition of fines to the tune of Rs. 19.25 lakhs (Rs. 1,925,000) in 2013-14. During 2014-15 the CIC recovered penalties better as compared to the previous year. It recovered Rs. 11.31 lakhs (Rs. 11,31,225) as compared to Rs. 10.19 lakhs (Rs. 1,019,628) which is about 10% higher. It is not clear whether the reduction in the number of penalties is due to better compliance of PIOs or a more lenient attitude adopted by the Information Commissioners. This requires a deeper examination of all the CIC's orders to ascertain whether penalty was or was not imposed in deserving cases.
RTI trends across some prominent constitutional authorities, Ministries and Public Authorities:
It is to be noted that the Hon'ble Defence Minister was himself an avid RTI user while he was in the Opposition in Goa. One would have expected a lower rejection rate from the Ministry of Defence under his leadership. However it is necessary to study the nature and contents of the RTI applications rejected by the Defence Ministry before anything conclusive can be said about the manner of treatment they have received by the PIOs.
Public Authorities which did not submit their RTI statistics to the CIC
Of the 502 public authorities which did not submit their Annual Returns to the CIC, the following prominent ones are noticeable:
Constitutional Bodies/Authorities: Supreme Court of India, Lok Sabha Secretariat & Rajya Sabha Secretariat (whether they have registered with the CIC ever since 2005 is also unclear. The RTI data of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs does not mention whether the data for these two Secretariats are included in it).
Ministries: Ministry of Coal, Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, Ministry of Housing & Poverty Alleviation, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Women & Child Development,
Departments: Dept. of Defence, Dept. of Defence Production, Dept. of Financial Services, Dept. of Pharmaceuticals, Dept. of AIDS Control, Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Legal Affairs, Dept. Legislative Dept.,
Regulatory Authorities: Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India,
Other Public Authorities: Air India, Bharat Electronic Ltd., Central Board of Excise & Customs, several Chief Commissioners of Excise & Customs across the country, Coal India Ltd., Central Board of Secondary Education, CBI, Central Administrative Tribunal, Delhi Metro Corporation Ltd., Delhi Milk Scheme, National Gallery of Modern Art, National School of Drama, Nuclear Power Corporation of India, RML Hospital, New Delhi, Lady Hardinge Medical College and Smt. S K Hospital, Delhi, Central Universities of Gujarat, Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand etc., IISC & IIM - both in Bengaluru, IIT Madras, Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti, Employees State Insurance Corporation, Directorate General of Mines Safety, Rahstriya Mahila Kosh, Staff Selection Commission, etc.
This piece is an advance intimation of the broad trends of RTI across the Government of India. We will circulate more detailed RTI trends across other prominent public authorities in future when the CIC uploads the e-copy of its report on its website.
For more information, contact the author at Venkatesh@humanrightsinitiative.org