July 19, 2011
GOI Monitor maps RTI Act's performance over first five years to highlight the hits and misses

The Right to information movement we are currently witness to owes its existence to farmers and labourers in small villages of Rajasthan who in the late 90s demanded that official records regarding government funds be made public and the corrupt brought to book. Continued pressure by non-government groups and activists for transparency in governance led to enactment of the RTI Act in 2005. GOI Monitor accessed and assessed the data related to its performance at the central level through first five years of its existence. Here are the highs and lows.

The most heartening fact to be noted is that citizens of the country are increasingly arming themselves with the provisions of the legislation and turning India into a democratic nation in its true sense. This is evident with the steady increase in number of requests for information filed with various public authorities from October 2005 to March 2010. The requests received by the central ministries and Union Territories in the first year of the RTI Act totaled 24,436 which went up by 21 times to touch 5,20,509 in 2009-10..

While this showcases the increased awareness among general public about its rights, the response has also been a big pat on the back for those who formulated the Act and also for those who fought to preserve its sanctity whether from the proposal to exclude file notings or from the hike in application submission fee.

A quick analysis of the recent data throws out clear favourites among the ministries where most RTI applications are filed. Ministry of Finance tops the chart with 68,120 requests received in 2009-10 followed by Ministry of Communication and Information Technology at 59674. Ministry of Food Processing Industries had the lowest RTI application rate at 50 requests in 2009-10.

With increase in number of requests, the coffers of respective public authorities have also started getting fatter. Amount collected as application submission fee and in lieu of copies of documents provided increased from what was slightly more than Rs 5 lakh in 2005-06 to more than Rs 83 lakh in 2009-10.

Interestingly, the RTI Act, which was earlier thought to be pitted against the public authorities, has become a good source of income for them creating a synergy between the applicants and the government. On the other hand, Rs 29,268,30 went out as compensation to 21 applicants during the five-year period. So, while most public authorities did reap in monetary benefits, some had to empty their coffers for causing harassment and monetary loss to the applicants.

The number of requests rejected by the ministries and UTs was 3,4024 in total which was 6.47 per cent of the total applications submitted in the year 2009-10. There is a definite improvement as the first year (2005-06) posted 13.9 per cent rejections and the rate kept declining over the years with an exception of 2008-09 when there was a slight increase. This may be partially due to change in attitude of government officials who were earlier reluctant to accept accountability and the regulatory role played by the CIC.

Cabinet Secretariat topped the list of public authorities which rejected the requests for information under the RTI Act at 26.6 per cent followed by Ministry of Finance at 21.7 per cent and Prime Minister’s Office at 17.5 per cent.

Maximum rejections (34 per cent) in 2009-10 were made under Section 8 (j) that disallows disclosure of personal information which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which causes unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual. Another 14.5 per cent requests were rejected under Section 8 (d) which puts restriction on disclosure of information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property.