The Right to information (RTI) Act in India celebrated its eighth Birthday, this Saturday. While there has been much cynicism over information denied by public authorities under RTI, the data regarding honouring of such requests tells a different story. Only Less than 10% of all RTI queries recorded have faced rejection. So things are not that bleak as portrayed by a section of media.
Below is a quick look at the Key points of the RTI Data, by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an independent organisation closely associated with the RTI legislation, data-mined annual reports filed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) and 10 State Information Commissions that had released their annual reports on their website — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Rajasthan, as well as Jammu and Kashmir, which is governed by its own RTI Act.
Some Key Data on RTI Act India
1) An estimated 40 lakh people used the Act during 2011-12 ( 20.39 lakh applications were submitted to public authorities under the Central government and the 10 states. CHRI used this data to arrive at a conservative estimate for the number of RTI filed by the remaining 18 states. Arriving at a conservative estimate of 40 lakh).
2) The highest number of rejections was by public bodies under the Central government and those in Maharashtra, both of which received around 6.5 lakh queries each.
3) States with less population, such as Meghalaya and Mizoram, had a rejection rate of less than 1%.
4) Large states like Karnataka, with 2.93 lakh RTI requests, rejected only 0.3% of these.
5) One of the most regulated of States,the J&k saw a big rise in RTI applications. The rejection rate too declined from 9% in 2009-10 to 4% in 2010-11; now standing at 1.37% in 2011-12.
6) High-profile authorities such as the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Directorate General of Safeguards had a 100 percent rejection rate.
Why 40 Lakh RTI Applications in 2011-12 is a big feat?
The critics of RTI still call it a legislation having average success. The data above shows, this is not true. This particularly when one takes into account the following facts:
1) Very limited internet reach (though mobile internet is making for the conventional internet)
2) Unlike USA, where the transparency law, the US Freedom of Information Act, is being used largely by individuals to procure information that personally benefits them, in India, many people file RTIs that are in the public interest.
3) The fact that less than 1 out of every 10 RTI requests face rejection, proves that the RTI has helped bring about a shift in the mindset of public officials. With each passing year, they are releasing more information public domain than ever.
How RTI in India is fighting Systemic Corruption in India?
RTI Act passed in 2005, proves that information is the only tool to fight Systemic Corruption, red tape and official high handedness in India. While 40 Lakh RTIs may not look substantial when looked from non-absolute terms ( account for a mere 0.3% of the population and 0.5% of those who vote); even then the inconsequential information requested by an Indian citizen helps the nation become more transparent. For instance, the RTI for the number of vacancies reserved for Physically handicapped candidates in some Government department may momentarily help a single individual; but over time the awareness about the vacancies helps other PH individuals get their right.
Like everything else, RTI is being misused as well. But that misuse is far and light. For instances, an RTI filed by an Indian citizen on the money spend by the Union Government on the treatment of Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi etc. may look downright unnecessary to many; but that information too is making the nation more transparent. As it’s encouraging others to ask for information.