2.2 Lakh Appeals Pending as RTI Act Marks Its 15th Anniversary

12 October marks 15 years since the implementation of the Right to Information Act (RTI).

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India
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A report card on the performance of the Information Commissions in India shows that over 2.21 lakh appeals and complaints were pending as on 31 July in 20 information commissions.

Monday, 12 October, marks 15 years since the implementation of the Right to Information Act (RTI).

The ‘Report Card on the Performance of the Information Commissions in India, 2020’ prepared by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and the Centre for Equity Studies (CES) released on Monday has pointed out a few glaring errors in their functioning.

What Are the Reasons for the Backlogs?

The report stated that the primary reasons for the backlogs is the failure of the central and state governments to take timely action to appoint information commission chiefs to the Central Information Commission and state information commissions, and also that commissions have been very reluctant to impose penalties on erring officials for violations of the law.

“Unfortunately, the transparency watchdogs themselves have not had a shining track record in terms of being transparent and accountable to the people of the country,” read the report.

What Are These Commissions?

The Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 has been extensively used by people on a range of issues – from holding the government accountable for delivery of basic rights and entitlements to questioning the highest offices of the country.

Estimates suggest that every year 40 to 60 lakh RTI applications are filed.

Under the RTI Act, information commissions (ICs) have been set up at the central level (Central Information Commission) and in the states (state information commissions). The commissions have the powers to require public authorities to provide access to information, appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs), order an inquiry and also have the powers of a civil court for enforcing attendance of persons, discovery of documents, receiving evidence or affidavits, issuing summons.

What are the Key Findings of the Report?

1. Vacancies in Information Commissions

The Central Information Commission has been functioning without a chief since 27 August 2020. Five posts of commissioners in the CIC are also vacant. More than 9 out of 29 information commissions (31%) also don’t have a chief information commissioner currently.

Since the Chief Information Commissioner of the Jharkhand SIC, demitted office in November 2019, the lone information commissioner was made the acting chief. Upon the completion of his tenure in May 2020, the information commission has been without any commissioner, rendering it completely defunct. So for the last five months, people seeking information from public authorities have had no recourse.

Similarly, the information commission of Tripura became defunct in April 2019 when the lone commissioner who was the chief finished his tenure. A new Chief was appointed in September 2019, who retired in 7 months and since then, no new appointments have been made.

2. Number of Appeals and Complaints Dealt With by ICs

The report shows that between 1 April 2019 to 31 July 2020, 1,78,749 appeals and complaints were registered by 21 information commissions. During the same period, nearly two lakh cases (1,92,872) were disposed by 22 commissions for whom information could be obtained.

2.2 Lakh Appeals Pending as RTI Act Marks Its 15th Anniversary
Source: Report Card on the Performance of the Information Commissions in India, 2020 prepared by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and the Centre for Equity Studies (CES)

3. Backlogs in Information Commissions

The number of appeals and complaints pending on 31 July 2020 in the 20 information commissions, from which data was obtained, stood at 2,21,568. The 2019 assessment had found that as of 31 March 2019, a total of 2,18,347 appeals/complaints were pending in the 26 information commissions from which data was obtained.

The report also stated that people have to wait for a long time for their cases to be heard. The data suggested that Odisha SIC would take 7 years and 8 months to dispose a matter, in Jharkhand SIC, it would take 4 years and 1 month, while in Maharashtra, CIC, Rajasthan and Nagaland it would take 2 years or more. The assessment shows that 9 commissions would take more than 1 year to dispose a matter.

2.2 Lakh Appeals Pending as RTI Act Marks Its 15th Anniversary
Source: Report Card on the Performance of the Information Commissions in India, 2020 prepared by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and the Centre for Equity Studies (CES)

4. Lack of Transparency in the Functioning of Information Commissions

The report pointed out that the performance of many ICs, in terms of publishing annual reports and putting them in the public domain, ‘was found to be dismal.’

25 out of 29 ICs (86%) had not published their annual report for 2019. Punjab SIC has not published its annual report after 2012 while the Uttarakhand SIC has not published since 2014. The SIC of Andhra Pradesh has not published its annual report since the constitution of the SIC in 2017, after the bifurcation of the state.

2.2 Lakh Appeals Pending as RTI Act Marks Its 15th Anniversary
Source: Report Card on the Performance of the Information Commissions in India, 2020 prepared by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and the Centre for Equity Studies (CES)

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