OCTOBER 12, 2020 marks the 15th anniversary of The Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. The RTI was enacted to give the right to hold the government accountable for the delivery of basic rights to the citizens. The state and centre commissions set up under the act have been mandated to save the fundamental right of right to information of the citizens.
On this occasion, Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) & Centre for Equity Studies (CES) released the ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions (‘ICs’) in India, 2020’. The key findings of the report were based on five broad parameters- Vacancies in ICs, number of appeals and complaints dealt with by ICs, backlogs, penalties imposed by ICs and transparency in the functioning of ICs.
The assessment found that several ICs were non-functional or were functioning at reduced capacity as posts, including that of the Chief Information Commissioner, were vacant during the period under review.
This is particularly concerning given the crisis situation due to the COVID 19 pandemic, which has made people, including migrant workers, even more dependent on government provision of essential goods and services. Without access to relevant information, citizens are unable to get their rights and entitlements and corruption thrives.
Additionally, the Jharkhand and Tripura commissions were found to be defunct. 9 out of 29 (31%) Information Commissions are currently headless i.e. functioning without a Chief. These include the CIC and the SICs of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Goa, Manipur, Telangana, Jharkhand, Tripura and Nagaland. ICs in Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan.
1,78,749 appeals and complaints were registered between April 1, 2019 and July 31, 2020 and nearly two lakh cases (1,92,872) were disposed of.
The ICs of Assam, Bihar, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Telangana did not provide requisite information under the RTI Act regarding the number of appeals and complaints dealt with by the ICs on their websites. No website for the Bihar SIC could be located on the internet. The number of appeals and complaints pending on July 31, 2020 in the 20 information commissions, from which data was obtained, stood at 2,21,568. The backlog has been steadily increasing.
The report calculates the estimated time each commission would need to dispose of a new appeal/complaint. 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.
The assessment found that ICs imposed penalty in an extremely small fraction of the cases in which penalty was imposable. For the period April 1, 2019 to July 31, 2020, a total of 15,738 show cause notices were issued to PIOs under the penalty clause of the Act, by the 13 commissions which provided relevant information. The analyses done by report shows that penalty was imposed in just 2.2% cases disposed by 16 ICs. The analysis revealed that despite the statutory obligation, 25 out of 29 ICs (86%) had not published their annual report for 2019. In terms of the availability of annual reports on the website of respective ICs, 19% of ICs have not made their latest annual report available on their website.
(Anusha Agrawal is a student of National Law University, Odisha and an intern with The Leaflet)