MUMBAI: In the nine years of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Parliament has never submitted statistics on the RTI applications it has received till date. Neither the Lok Sabha (LS) nor the Rajya Sabha (RS) secretariats have ever submitted reports to the Central Information Commission (CIC), which compiles data received from public authorities across the country.
"Parliament has the right to get annual reports on the implementation of the RTI Act under section 25 of the Act. It is a contradiction of sorts that the supervisory body itself has never submitted RTI stats to the CIC," says Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, which has analyzed CIC reports over the last nine years.
"I personally know of retired and serving officials in the LS and RS secretariats who have sought information from these bodies. It is clear that both houses of Parliament are receiving a lot of RTI applications. It is their duty to report them to the ministry of parliament affairs," says Nayak. The study showed a steady decline in the proportion of public authorities submitting data on RTI to the CIC. In 2005-06, the year RTI was passed, there were 938 public authorities, of which 89.23% filed a compliance report. In 2013-14, the number of public authorities was 2,776, of which 73% submitted an RTI report to the CIC, a 17% dip since 2005-06.
"The department of personnel and training (DoPT) had initially called for quarterly reports on RTI data from all public authorities. But many have instead chosen to submit only one report at the end of the year. When they miss the deadline, the data is simply not reported," says Nayak. Ironically, he points out, the DoPT itself did not submit an RTI report this year, despite the fact that RTI falls under its purview.
The rejection rate for RTI applications was over 20% for the PMO, nearly three times the average rejection rate for public authorities, which was 7.2%. The rejection rate was higher still for the Supreme Court (23%) and 28.8% for the ministry of corporate affairs—four times the national average. The corporate affairs ministry saw an almost 300% increase in the rejection rate last year, says the CHRI report.
Nayak points to a worrying trend—the increase in the 'others' column, which signifies rejections on grounds other than those stated in the RTI Act.
According to the CIC's recent annual report, the railways (largest number of RTI queries) has a rejection rate of 0.1%. Nayak says there is a need to independently examine the data submitted by public authorities, pointing to instances where these had cited a rejection rate of zero, while the number of second appeals in those bodies was high, contradicting their claim of no rejections.