Modi Govt Continues to be Non-Responsive to RTIs, PMO Most Quick to Reject Queries: CIC Report

Written by Venkatesh Nayak | Published on: March 20, 2017
The Modi Government continues to be non-responsive to queries put on expenses of the government and its ministers on the tax payers money, public queries and audits on budgetary allocations, all made through Right to Information Applications. As many as 9.76 lakh applications were received by registered public authorities in 2015-2016, showing a 3.8 per cent increase over the previous year.

RTI
 
Shockingly, according to the CIC, the highest proportion of RTI applications was rejected not under the permissible exemptions under the RTI Act such as Sections 8, 9, 11 or 24 but under the mysterious category of "others". At 43% rejections recorded under this category, more than 4 out of every 10 RTI applications rejected were for reasons other than those permitted by the RTI Act. The Prime Minister's Office is one of the PAs that employed this device very frequently (see ministry-wise findings here).
 
The Central Information Commission(CIC)’s Annual Report  on the implementation of The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) may be read on its website.
 
RTI Trends of select constitutional authorities and Ministries
The Excel sheet prepared by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative for the tabulated data from 2005 to 2016 for these select constitutional authorities and Ministries reveals the following trends:
 
1) While the President's Secretariat received only 123 more RTIs in 2015-16 as compared to the previous year the proportion of rejection plummeted from 9.30% to 1.2% in 2015-16. This appears to be a very significant positive trend indicating higher proportion of information disclosure.
 
2) In 2015-16 the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) reported a rejection rate of 20.10% of the RTIs received. This is a significant drop from 22.10% in 2014-15. However only 7 RTI applications were rejected by the PMO invoking Section 8. A whopping 2,227 RTIs were rejected in the "Others" category. However rejections in this category were much higher at 2,781 in 2014-15. This declining but nevertheless worrisome trend requires a more in-depth study.
 
3) The proportion of rejection of RTIs by the Supreme Court fell to 21.1% in 2015-16 while it received only 6 more RTIs as compared to the previous year. The proportion of rejections by the Delhi High Court also registered a fall of more than 1% in 2015-16 even tough the number of RTI received went up by 127.
 
4) While the number of RTIs received by the Comptroller and Auditor General fell to 716 in 2015-16 from 796 the previous year, the proportion of rejection zoomed to 17.2% from 6.3% reported the previous year. This alarming increase requires in-depth study.
 
5) The proportion of rejection of RTIs by the Election Commission of India has remained at steady state at 0.1% despite receiving 539 fewer RTIs in 2015-16.
 
6) The Cabinet Secretariat also witnessed a jump in the proportion of rejections from 4.30% to 6.65% in 2015-16 although it received only 73 more RTIs. 
 
7) The Ministry of Personnel and Training reported a significant decline in the proportion of rejections at 3.4% in 2015-16 as compared to 9.4% during the previous year even though it reported receiving 9,000 more RTIs in 2015-16. This appears to be a positive trend.
 
8) Although Delhi Police received 648 more RTIs in 2015-16, the proportion of rejection fell slightly by 0.4% in 2015-16.
 
9) Among key Ministries, the proportion of rejection in the Ministry of Defence fell significantly to 11.5% in 2015-16 as compared to 15.90% the previous year. In the Ministry of Finance which has 212 PAs reporting (banks and tax authorities), the proportion of rejection fell to 18.30% in 2015-16 as compared with the 20.20% rejection rate the previous year. The Ministry of External Affairs also reported a fall in the proportion of rejection at 5.74% in 2015-16 as compared to the 7% rejection rate reported the previous year. However, the proportion of rejection in the Home Ministry increased slightly by 0.1% in 2015-16 even though it received 1,143 more RTIs in 2015-16. 
 
 
7) The CIC reports that it imposed penalties to the tune of Rs. 10.52 lakhs out of which Rs. 9.41 lakhs was paid up by the PIOs. Penalties worth Rs. 1.25 lakhs imposed in various cases have been stayed by various High Courts.
 
8) The CIC has reported that the amount of fees and penalties reported by the PAs has increased by 12.31% in 2015-16. However if the amount of penalty imposed is reduced from this figure, the amount of fees collected by various PAs has actually come down from Rs. 1.14 crores in 2014-15 to Rs. 1.07 crores in 2016-17. This trend seems to be at variance with the reduction in the proportion of rejections. This is because, if more people received information then logic dictates that the proportion of fees collected ought to have gone up. This would have to be the case unless the PAs have started the practice of giving information free of charge to RTI applicants. This new trend requires deeper examination.
 
9) The number of Public Authorities registering with the CIC for submitting their RTI statistics is 1,903 - much lower than the highest figure of 2,333 registered in 2012-13. More than 400 public authorities did not register with the CIC despite its perseverant efforts in 2015-16. However, the AR states that reporting compliance from amongst the registered public authorities is the highest during the last 12 years at more than 94%. This is a good sign. However, the report does not throw light on the names of public authorities that did not register with the CIC. This could have been done by comparing with the data from 2012-13.
 
10) The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation and Ministry Overseas Indian Affairs have not reported their RTI statistics despite registering with the CIC. Only 33% of the public authorities from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways reported their RTI Stats to the CIC. However compliance has been between 60-100% in a large number of Ministries and Departments that have registered with the CIC.