A 6% dip in the number of RTI applications received by the Central Government
Readers will remember that through our Rapid Review Reports published since 2013 based on the Annual Reports of Information Commissions across the country, CHRI has been reporting that the number of requests for information submitted to public authorities under the Central Government has been plateauing. Now for the first time since 2005, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has actually reported a 6% dip in the number of RTI applications received by the Central Government. Our preliminary review of the statistics included in the Annual Report of the CIC for the year 2016-17 is given below:
Trend across the Central Government
- While more public authorities (1,965) have filed their annual RTI statistics with the CIC in 2016-17 (only 1,903 reported in 2015-16), the number of RTI applications has come down from 9.76 lakhs in 2015-16 to 9.17 lakhs - a dip of 6.1%. If the RTI statistics reported by the Union Territories (1.07 lakhs) are excluded from these figures the dip is 5% of the 2015-16 total. In 2015-16, 1.23 lakh RTI applications had been submitted across the UTs. The overall proportion of rejection for Central Government (including UTs) has come down marginally from 6.62% in 2015-16 to 6.59% in 2016-17. These Public authorities rejected 2.86% of the RTI applications (26,267) for reasons other than Sections 8, 9 and 24 permitted under the RTI Act. This figure has also come down from 3.78% in 2015-16.
- The Ministry of Finance has once again topped the list of Ministries with the most number of RTI applications received in a year, thanks to the inclusion of RTI data from banks, insurance companies and the income tax authorities.Here too there is a 2.65% dip in the number of RTI applications filed in 2016-17 as compared with the previous reporting year. 175 public authorities under this Ministry received 1.51 lakh RTI applications as against 1.55 lakh RTI applications received the previous year. The proportion of rejection has also gone up marginally from 18.30% in 2015-16 to 18.40% in 2016-17. However, the proportion of RTIs rejected for reasons other than Sections 8, 9 and 24 has fallen from 6.89% in 2015-16 to 6.70% in 2016-17.
- The Prime Minister's Office on the other hand received almost 13% more RTI applications (12.89%) in 2016-17 as compared to the previous year. In 2016-17 PMO received 12,787 RTI applications as compared with 11,138 in 2015-16.Interestingly, the proportion of rejection has fallen to 10.21% in 2016-17 as compared with 20.10% in 2015-16. The PMO also rejected fewer RTIs (10.03%) for reasons other than Sections 8, 9 and 24 as compared to the previous year (19.99%).
- The Ministry of Home Affairs has reported a 3.62% rise in the number of RTI applications received in 2016-17. 28 public authorities under the Home Ministry received 59,828 RTI applications this year even though 33 public authorities reported 57,657 RTI applications the previous year. The proportion of rejection has gone up considerably to 16.10% in 2016-17 from the 14% figure reported in 2015-16. A bulk of these RTIs (6,422) were rejected by the exempt organisations under this Ministry such as Assam Rifles, Border Security Force, Central Industrial Security Force, Sashastra Seema Bal etc. The proportion of RTIs rejected for reasons other than Sections 8, 9 and 24 has gone up to 3.26% in 2016-17 as compared to 3.04% in 2015-16.
- The Ministry of External Affairs reported a 13.37% in the number of RTI applications received in 2016-17 although the number of public authorities under this Ministry has gone up from 4 in 2015-16 to 101 in 2016-17 with the recognition of all Embassies and High Commissions as public authorities in their own right. Interestingly, the proportion of rejection of RTIs in 2016-17 has fallen to 0.6% as compared to 5.74% in 2015-17.
- The Ministry of Defence reported a backlog of 89,391 RTI applications at the beginning of 2016-17 which is 39% of the bulk of RTI applications it had to deal with during the year. Only 58,339 fresh RTIs were received this year. However, this is an increase of 14.36% over the receipts in 2015-16. The proportion of rejection has fallen considerably to 6.80% in 2016-17 from 11.50% in 2015-16. The proportion of RTIs rejected for reasons other than Sections 8, 9 and 24 of the Act has also fallen by almost half - 3.12% in 2016-17.
- More than 97.5% of the backlog of RTI applications in the Defence Ministry were actually reported by the Indian Army - 87,167 pending at the beginning of 2016-17. During the Army received 17,599 RTIs - a 2% increase over the figures reported in 2015-16. The proportion of rejection has fallen to 5.50% in 2016-17 from 8.9% the previous year.
- The Indian Air Force did not have any backlog at the beginning of 2016-17 and received 3,947 RTIs during the year. The proportion of rejection has also fallen considerably to 17.50% from 36.30% reported in 2015-16.
- The Indian Navy received 1,645 RTIs in 2016-17 which is more than double (almost 55%) the number received in 2015-16. However the proportion of rejection has fallen to 12.90% as compared to 18.50% during the previous year.
- The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions- the nodal Ministry for implementing the RTI Act in the Central Government, received 3% more RTI applications in 2016-17. However, the proportion of rejections has jumped to 5.76% from 3.40% reported in 2015-16. The proportion of RTIs rejected for reasons other than Sections 8, 9 and 24 remains the same at 1.88%.
- Rashtrapati Bhawan received 2.79% more RTIs in 2016-17 but rejected only 0.7% of them. In 2015-16, it had rejected 1.2% of the 2,939 RTIs received.
- The Comptroller and Auditor General of India received more than double the RTI applications (57.6%) in 2016-17 as compared with the 2015-16 figures. The proportion of rejection fell drastically from 17.20% in 2015-16 to 3.7% in 2016-17.
- The Cabinet Secretariat reported a dip of 8.65% in the number of RTIs received in 2016-17 as compared with the previous year. The proportion of rejection has also fallen marginally to 6.5% in 2016-17 from 6/65% the previous year.
- The Election Commission of India (ECI) received 13.8% more RTIs in 2016-17 as compared to the previous year. Although the CIC's report records 0% rejection in the data table, the ECI rejected 14 RTIs for reasons other than Sections 8, 9 and 24.
Trends across the higher judiciary in Delhi
- The Supreme Court of India received 3.8% more RTIs in 2016-17. However the Apex Court rejected a quarter of these RTIs (25.5%). In 2015-16, the Court had rejected only a fourth of the RTIs received (21.1%).
- The Delhi High Court received 12.18% more RTIs in 2016-17 as compared with the previous year. Interestingly, the proportion of rejection has fallen to 23.7% from 27.3% in 2015-16.
Trends across Delhi
- Among the Union Territories, Delhi received the most number of RTI applications in 2016-17. However the figures show a dip of 17.3% as compared to the figures of 2015-16. 198 public authorities under the Government of Delhi rejected 0.5% of the RTI applications received which is marginally (0.1%) higher than the figures reported the previous year.
- Delhi Police reported a backlog of 1,925 RTIs at the beginning of 2016-17. During the year it received 1.35% more requests for information. The proportion of rejection has fallen by 0.5% in 2016-17 as compared with the previous year. Delhi Police rejected more RTIs (1.88%) for reasons other than Sections 8, 9 and 24 as compared to the previous year.
Some public authorities that did not submit their RTI statistics to the CIC
The following is a sampler of public authorities that did not submit their RTI statistics to the CIC in 2016-17:
Ministry of Women and Child Development, Departments of Pharmaceuticals, Aids Control, Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks, Central Bank of India, Bureau of Police Research and Development, IISc, Bangalore, Registrar of Newspapers, ONGC (Videsh) Ltd., National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Women, Chief Commissioners of Income Tax in Guwahati, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, and DG Income Tax (Investigation) in Delhi, Patna, Kolkata and Mumbai.
The DG (Investigation) who oversees the tax exempt organisations Like NGOs, trusts and political parties (and sends them notices threatening withdrawal of tax exempt status for not filing Income Tax Returns) also did not file RTI returns with the CIC in 2016-17.
State of Information Commissions
- Headless and non-existent SICs: There is no State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) in Gujarat since mid-January 2018. Maharashtra SIC is headed by an acting SCIC since June 2017. There is no Information Commission in Andhra Pradesh (after Telangana was carved out in June 2014). The State Government has assured the Hyderabad High Court that it will set up an SIC soon;
- Vacancies at an all-time high: More than 25% (109) of the 146 posts in the Information Commissions, are lying vacant. In 2015, against 142 posts created 111 Information Commissioners (including Chief Information Commissioners) were working across the country.
- Large-sized SICs have huge pendency also: 47% of the serving Chief Information Commissioners and ICs are situated in seven States, namely, Haryana (11), Karnataka, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (9 each), Central Information Commission, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu (7 each). Six of these Commissions are saddled with 72% of the pending appeals and complaints across the country (pendency data is not available for Tamil Nadu, yet);\
- Bias towards bureaucrats in appointments has grown: 90% of the Information Commissions are headed by retired civil servants. More than 43% of the Information Commissioners are from civil services background. This is the trend despite the Supreme Court’s directive in 2013 to identify candidates in other fields of specialisation mentioned in the RTI Act for appointment;
- Fewer Women ICs: Only 8.25% of the serving SCICs and ICs are women. There are only 9 women in all the Information Commissions put together. Three of them are retired civil servants;
- Websites missing and Annual Reports not published: The websites of SICs of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar cannot be detected on any Internet browser. The SICs of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have not published any annual report so far. Jharkhand and Kerala SICs each have six pending annual reports. Punjab has five and Andhra Pradesh, four pending reports;
- Pendency has increased: According to data accessed from 19 Information Commissions, there are 1.93 lakh pending second appeal and complaint cases (as compared to 1.10 lakh cases that were pending across 14 ICs in 2015). Top five ICs accounting for 77% of the overall pendency are: Maharashtra (41,537), Uttar Pradesh (40,248), Karnataka (29,291), Central Information Commission (23,989) and Kerala (14,253 cases). Pendency in Bihar, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu among others is not known publicly; and
Mizoram SIC received and decided only one appeal case in 2016-17. SICs of Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya have no pendency at all.
Use of RTI Laws in India
- RTI applications – annual figures: Between 2015-17, during a 12-month period, about 24.33 lakh RTI applications had been filed across the Central and 14 State Governments. It is not possible to get more accurate figures in the absence of annual reports from several ICs. By a process of extrapolation it may be conservatively estimated that up to 50 lakh/5 million RTI applications would have have been submitted by citizens during the same period;
- RTI applications – over 12 years: Between 2005–2017, ICs reported that 2.14 crore/ 21.4 million RTI applications were filed across the country. If data is published by all ICs, this figure may actually touch 3-3.5 crores/33-35 million (conservative estimate). Less than 0.5% of the population seems to have used RTI since its operationalisation;
- Biggest grossers – over 12 years: Despite the absence of their latest annual reports, the Central Government (57.43 lakhs/5.74 million) and the State Governments of Maharashtra (54.95 lakhs/5.49 million) and Karnataka (20.73 lakhs/2.07 million) continue to top the list of jurisdictions receiving the most number of information requests. Gujarat (9.86 lakhs) recorded more RTI applications than neighbouring Rajasthan (8.55 lakhs) where the demand for an RTI law emerged from the grass roots. Despite having much lower levels of literacy, Chhattisgarh (6.02 lakh) logged more RTI applications than the 100% literate Kerala (5.73 lakhs). Despite being much smaller sized States, Himachal Pradesh (4.24 lakhs), Punjab (3.60 lakhs) and Haryana (3.32 lakhs) registered more RTI applications each than the geographically bigger State of Odisha (2.85 lakhs);
- Less frequent use of RTI – over 12 years: Manipur recorded the lowest figures for RTI use at 1,425 information requests between 2005-2017. The SIC did not publish any annual report between 2005 and 2011 and is yet to release the report for 2016-17;
- RTI applications: rising trend – over 12 years: Seven jurisdictions, namely, the Central Government and the States of Andhra Pradesh (undivided), Assam, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala and Uttarakhand have recorded an uninterrupted trend of increase in the number of RTI applications received;
- RTI applications: declining trend – over 12 years: Five States- Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Sikkim, Nagaland and Tripura have reported a decline in the number of RTI applications received in recent years. The reasons for the drop in numbers requires probing urgently; and
- RTI applications: mixed trend – over 12 years: Seven States, namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Meghalaya, Gujarat, Mizoram, Odisha and West Bengal have recorded a mixed trend where the RTI application figures have fluctuated over the years. After seesawing in the initial years, Arunachal Pradesh has reported a more than 82% decline in the number of RTI applications received in 2015 against the peak reached in 2014. Mizoram’s figures also show a declining trend of 23% in 2016-17 after the peak scaled during the previous year. West Bengal’s figures rose and dipped to less than 62% of the peak reached in 2010 but a rising trend has been reported in 2015.