Data released by the Central Information Commission (CIC), which is the Right to Information (RTI) watchdog of the Government of India, has revealed that during 2015-16 Prime Minister Narendra Modi's office rejected 20.10% of the RTI pleas it received, the rejection rate was particularly high in mysterious “Others” category.
CIC's Annual Report, released on Friday, has found that while there was some drop in rejections – it was 22.10% in 2014-15 – though only seven RTI applications were rejected by Modi's office invoking Section 8, which defines the areas permitted by the RTI Act to not to disclose information.
The RTI Act's Section 8 allows officials not to disclose information in case it “would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence”, or if it would “endanger the life or physical safety of any person.”
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative's senior RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak, who has analysed the report, says, “A whopping 2,227 RTIs were rejected in the Others category.” While this is lower than what it was in 2014-15, when the rejections under Others was 2,781, Nayak adds, “This declining but nevertheless worrisome trend requires in-depth study.”
In fact, the Others category is being increasingly used not just by Modi's office, but also by other officials, suggests Nayak. “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”, he says.
“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 Public Authorities (PAs) that employed this device very frequently”, he comments.
The Cabinet Secretariat, which is also directly under Modi, also witnessed “a jump in the proportion of rejections from 4.30% to 6.65% in 2015-16”, says Nayak, though adding, “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”, which is a “positive trend”.
“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”, Nayak says, adding, “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.”, states Nayak.