RTI Act: a reality check

What the CIC annual report reveals

venkatesh-nayak

Venkatesh Nayak | April 3, 2015



You may have read recent news items in print and electronic media about our analysis of the trends of implementing the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act). The preliminary findings are based on a quick study of the annual report of the central information commission (CIC) for 2013-14. You may access this report on its website.

Preliminary findings from a study of the CIC's annual report:
(1) Overall there is a drop in the percentage of public authorities reporting to the CIC on their RTI stats. More than a quarter of the public authorities have not reported their RTI stats to the CIC. The reporting compliance rose in 2012-13 but fell again in 2013-14. The highest rate was in 2005-06, followed by 2007-08 when the reporting was more than 85%. CIC is not able to compel a large number of public authorities to submit data. This is cause for concern. RTI activists should demand that departmental action be initiated against the senior officers of these errant ministries and departments for violating the civil service conduct rules. Last year the Conduct Rules for All-India Services Officers (IAS, IPS and IFoS) were amended to make transparency and accountability core values. Not adhering to a core value could potentially be treated as misconduct. Please see the attached gazette notifications.

(2) Parliament (that is, the secretariats of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) has never given RTI stats to the CIC even once in the nine years. This is something which the CIC has not even mentioned in its report year after year. Yet, parliament has the right to get annual reports on the implementation of the RTI Act every year under Section 25 of the RTI Act. This is a contradiction of sorts that the supervisory body itself has never submitted RTI stats to the CIC. The RTI stats for parliament are not part of the stats given by the ministry of parliamentary affairs, or else they would have been specifically mentioned like the supreme court whose RTI stats are reported under the stats of the union home ministry. Similarly, the department of personnel and training (DoPT) which is the nodal department for implementing the RTI Act also did not submit its RTI stats to the CIC for 2013-14.

(3) The Delhi high court has also never submitted RTI stats to the CIC till date although the supreme court has done so every year faithfully. The law commission of India also did not submit its RTI stats in 2013-14. 

The CIC report contains some errors. For example, in the list of public authorities that have not submitted their RTI stats includes the supreme court and the ministry of minority affairs. But the data tables in the Annexe give the RTI stats for these bodies for the reporting year (See Sheet 1 in the 1st attachment).

4) Some of the other prominent public authorities that are named in the CIC's annual report for not filing their RTI stats with the CIC for 2013-13 are:

Ministries & departments: Ministry of coal, ministry for development of north-eastern region, ministry of drinking water and sanitation, ministry of women and child development, department of defence production, department of aids control, department of health research, department of school education and literacy, and department of justice.

Public sector undertakings: Air India, Coal India Ltd., Oil companies such as HPCL, IOCL and Oil India, Fertiliser Corporation of India, National Highways Authority of India and Delhi Metro.

Autonomous bodies: Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC); National Disaster Management Authority, Northeastern Police Academy, NCERT, Staff Selection Commission, National Commission for Backward Classes, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and National Jute Board.

Regulatory bodies: Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority; Food Safety and Standards Authority of India; Medical Council of India, Central Board of Secondary Education, Directorate General of Mines Safety, a large number of directors general of income tax, chief commissioners of income tax and customs in places like Nagpur, Delhi, Vadodara, Patna, Jaipur, Lucknow,

Quasi-judicial authorities: Central Administrative Tribunal, a host of Debt Recovery Tribunals in places like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, a host of labour courts and industrial tribunals in Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Jabalpur, Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh,

Educational institutions: Assam University, IIMs of Bengaluru, Ranchi and Kashipur, Puducherry University, Tripura University, University of Allahabad and GGS Indraprastha University.

Law enforcement authorities: Central Bureau of Investigation.

Other public authorities: a host of museums and libraries under the Ministry of Culture, Forest Survey of India; Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital and a host of departments in the secretariats of the union territories of Delhi, Chandigarh and Puducherry.

(5) CIC puts the total number of RTI applications received by the public authorities reporting to it in 2013-14 at 9.62 lakh (9,62,000+). This is not the correct figure as it includes pending RTI applications from the previous year. The correct figure for receipts in 2013-14 is 8.34 lakh (8,34,000+). This shows a marginal decline in the rate of receipts when compared to the rate of increase between 2011-12 and 2012-13. RTI applications increased by 22% in 2012-13 as compared to the previous year. But the increase in 2013-14 is a mere 2.7%. So the question to ask is whether RTI fatigue is setting in or will the numbers go up considerably if all public authorities were to report their RTI stats.

(6) The proportion of rejections for reasons other than Sections 8, 9, and 24 is increasing. Each year the CIC expresses worry about this trend but has done precious little to inquire into the reasons. Under the RTI Act a request can be rejected only for reasons under Sections 8, 9 and 24. Section 11 (third party) is not a ground for rejection. It is only a procedure as rejection must still be based on reasons given in Sections 8 and 9 or 24. For all of GoI, the rejection under "Others" has increased by 4.4% over the previous year. However there is a reduction in the number of instances where Section 8(1)(c) - parliamentary privilege, 8(1)(e) - fiduciary relationship, 8(1)(g)- endangering life, 8(1)(h)- impeding law enforcement or trial or arrest, 8(1)(i)- Cabinet exemption and 8(1)(j) - privacy have been invoked overall. The total rejection rate has also come down by 0.5% while the number of requests has grown by 2.2%.

(7) The trend of rejections in the PMO, Rashtrapati Bhawan, supreme, court, C&AG and particularly the ministry of personnel which includes the DoPT – nodal department for RTI – is increasing year on year.

The rejection rates for these public authorities are well above the GoI average of 7.20%:

1.       Prime minister’s office: 20.50%

2.       Rashtrapati Bhawan: 10.7%

3.       Supreme court: 23.80%

4.       Comptroller and auditor general: 7% (here the comparison is with the previous year's rejection rate of 5.80%)

5.       Ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions: 14.50%

6.       Ministry of corporate affairs: 28.80%

7.       Ministry of power: 16.10%

8.       Delhi police: 9.2%

However the highest rejection rates overall (not counting the Section 24 organisations) are for:

1) Allahabad Bank- 34.69%

2) Andhra Bank- 41.6%

3) Bank of Maharashtra - 43.2%

4) Corporation Bank - 43.9%

5) Dena Bank - 35.1%.

6) Bank of Baroda - 32.4%

7) Canara Bank - 44.9%

8) Oriental Bank of Commerce- 35%

9) State Bank of Hyderabad - 58% (whereas SBI's rate is only 18.2%)

10) Vijaya Bank - 39.3%

The rejection rate for the Reserve Bank of India which is the authority over all these banks is only 3.7% - well below the average for GoI as a whole.

8) The rejection rate in the finance ministry has reduced this year although it receives the largest number of RTI applications. The ministry of external affairs' rejection rate is down by more than 40% even though the number of RTI applications has gone up. Similarly the rejection rates in railways, commerce, chemicals and fertilisers, civil aviation, food and environment ministries have also fallen substantially. Amongst the constitutional authorities the Election Commission has the lowest rejection rate. There is a reduction in the rejection rates of the Army. But the navy has seen a whopping increase in the rejection rate from 1% in 2012-13 to almost 7% last year. The air force has seen a marginal increase in the rejection rate.

9) Corporate affairs ministry has seen an almost 300% increase in the rejection rate last year. Power ministry's rejection rate has doubled. Labour ministry's rejection rate appears to be drastically down, but then they have shown a very poor reporting rate. So that will not count.
 

10) There was a decline in the number of RTI applications filed with Delhi police in 2012-13 compared to the previous year. But the trend is increasing in 2013-14.

11) Rejection rate in defence ministry has increased but their pendency of RTI applications from previous year is also very high. Reasons are not known for such high pendency unless a very large number of RTI applications were filed in the last month of the previous reporting year.

12) HRD ministry is interestingly reporting that a large number of RTIs were rejected under Section 8(1)(f)- information received in confidence from foreign governments. This phenomenon requires study to check whether the rejections are form the ministry itself or from the IITs and other institutes under it.

13) Although railways got 12.2% of the RTI applications which is probably the most number submitted to a single entity, its rejection rate has fallen down below 1%. This is a good sign and the reasons for this decline must be studied.

14) From the narrative portion of the CIC report it appears that the amount of penalty imposed has gone up by 31% in 2013-14. While Rs. 13.19 lakh was the total amount levied in 2012-13, it has risen up to Rs. 19.25 lakh last year. While recovery was Rs. 10.19 lakh last year it was Rs. 7.61 lakh in 2012-13. This shows an increase of 25% in the recovery rate. It looks like civil society criticism about poor record of imposing penalties is yielding results slowly. Strangely, there is no reference to the amount of compensation awarded in the last two reports of the CIC.

Courtesy: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

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