The Right to Information (RTI) Act in India, a law that empowered Indians to seek information and hold governments and public authorities accountable, will complete 17 years of its implementation on Wednesday, 12 October.
Under the RTI law, information commissions are the authorities which are mandated to safeguard and facilitate people’s fundamental right to information.
However, 17 years after the empowering law came into being, the transparency system seems to be suffering from a variety of ailments.
The Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) has presented these issues in its 'Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India 2021-22.'
Here are the key highlights of the report:
Two Information Commissions - Jharkhand and Tripura - are completely defunct as no new commissioners have been appointed upon the incumbents demitting office.
Four commissions are currently headless - the State Information Commissions (SICs) of Manipur, Telangana, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh are functioning without a Chief.
2,12,443 appeals and complaints were registered between 1 July 2021 and 30 June 2022 by 25 Information Commissions for whom relevant information was available. During the same time period, 2,27,950 cases were disposed by 27 commissions for which information could be obtained.
3,14,323 appeals and complaints were pending on 30 June 2022 in the 26 information commissions, from which data was obtained. The backlog of appeals/complaints has been steadily increasing in commissions.
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 which climbed to 2,86,325 as of 30 June 2021.
Using the average monthly disposal rate and the pendency in commissions, the time it would take for an appeal/complaint to be disposed was computed. The assessment shows that the West Bengal Information Commission would take an estimated 24 years and 3 months to dispose a matter. A matter filed on 1 July 2022 would be disposed in the year 2046 at the current monthly rate of disposal.
In Odisha and Maharashtra SICs, estimated time for disposal is more than 5 years and in Bihar more than 2 years.
The assessment shows that 12 commissions would take one year or more to dispose a matter.
The analysis of penalties imposed by information commissions shows that the commissions did not impose penalties in 95 percent of the cases where penalties were potentially imposable.
Section 25 of the RTI Act obligates each commission to prepare a report on the implementation of the provisions of this Act every year which is to be laid before Parliament or the state legislature. 20 out of 29 ICs (69 percent) have not published their annual report for 2020-21.