As the Right to Information Act completes a decade, Sunday Times takes a look at how India's landmark transparency law is faring:
How many of us have ever filed a query under RTI? Data mined by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) shows that an estimated 40-50 lakh people over the age of 18 used RTI between 2012 and 2014 — that's 0.5-0.6% of the electorate. However, there has also been a 57% spike in first appeals over the last year, taking them to 94,945. This shows rising dissatisfaction with replies received under RTI.
The CHRI data shows that 280-odd activists have allegedly been harassed, assaulted or killed till date. Vacancies continue to plague various information commissions. Retired bureaucrats make up a disproportionately high number of information commissioners; women commissioners are few. Moreover, various states' information commissions differ over how much information they share on their websites.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) reported 60,127 RTI applications rejected by PIOs (public information officers) in 2013-14.
57% increase in first appeals over the last year to 94,945.
Rejections and first appeals are indicators of people's dissatisfaction with information received under RTI.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are cases where RTIs are not rejected but replies are sketchy and evasive. Not all such cases result in second appeals because applicants often don't have the time or energy to pursue the matter.
Babus on top
While four information commissions are headless, the remaining 25 (including the CIC) are headed by retired civil servants.
Over 76% of chief information commissioners are retired IAS officers, up from 69% in 2014.
Only Nagaland's information commission is headed by a woman; just 12.6% of India's information commissioners are women.
The large proportion of retired civil servants heading information commissions continues despite the Supreme Court advocating diversity among the post holders. "I find this a big problem," says Venkatesh Nayak of CHRI. "Many retired bureaucrats may have received RTI applications to their departments while they were serving bureaucrats, and now find themselves hearing those very same cases in their role as information commissioners. That amounts to hearing your own cases, or being a judge in your own court," he adds.
RTI activist and former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi feels most people appointed as information commissioners are not fit for the job, and lack both the skills and commitment for the position. He advocates a transparent process for selecting information commissioners.
Activists under attack
279 - The number of cases of alleged murder, attacks, harassment of RTI activists till July 2015. This includes 39 murders, 4 suicides & 231 cases of assault or harassment.
"The incidence of assault against RTI activists is extremely unfortunate, especially in a country whose motto is Satyamev Jayate (the truth shall prevail). When people ask for the truth from their government, it is the job of the state to ensure they are not harmed," says Nayak.
Gandhi, however, points out that RTI activists aren't the only ones to get attacked. "Anyone who challenges the powerful is under threat." he says.
Only 20.7% of information commissions have displayed annual reports on their websites for 2013-14. These include the central information commission and state commissions of Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Nagaland and Rajasthan. MP, Manipur, Tripura and UP commissions have never published annual reports on their official websites.
Only 27.5% of websites display case disposal statistics up to 2014-15.
41% of information commissions display the current status of pending appeals and complaints.
Nearly 75% of information commissions don't have a website in the local language.
In this day and age, when a lot of people using RTI are from urban areas and are internetliterate, it is important for information commissions to provide access to information on what the commission is doing in real time on their website, says Nayak, adding that this would result in more transparency and accountability.