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Sharp rise in pending RTI cases with India's information commissions, top five states account for 77% of pendency

By Our Representative
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a Delhi-based advocacy group, in a new report has said, data accessed from 19 Information Commissions (ICs) show that there are 1.93 lakh pending second appeal and complaint cases of Right to Information (RTI), up from 1.10 lakh cases in 2015. Top five ICs accounting for 77% of the overall pendency are Maharashtra (41,537), Uttar Pradesh (40,248), Karnataka (29,291), Central Information Commission (23,989) and Kerala (14,253 cases).
Pointing out that pendency in Bihar, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu is not known publicly, the report points out, Mizoram State Information Commission (SIC) received and decided only one appeal case in 2016-17. The report, called Rapid Review, has been released to mark the 25th anniversary of CHRI's work in India at the Open Consultation on the Future of RTI: Challenges and Opportunities, held in Delhi.
The report notes, there is no State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) in Gujarat since mid-January 2018. Maharashtra SIC is headed by an acting SCIC since June 2017. There is no Information Commission in Andhra Pradesh (after Telangana was carved out in June 2014), though the state government has assured the Hyderabad High Court that it will set up an SIC soon.
The report says, vacancies have reached at an all-time high, with more than 25% (109) of the 146 posts in the Information Commissions lying vacant. In 2015, as against 142 posts created, 111 Information Commissioners (including Chief Information Commissioners) were working across the country.
The report states, large-sized SICs have huge pendency. Thus, while 47% of the serving Chief Information Commissioners and ICs are situated in seven states -- Haryana (11), Karnataka, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (9 each), Central Information Commission, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu (7 each) -- six of these Commissions are saddled with 72% of the pending appeals and complaints across the country.
The report continues, bias towards bureaucrats in appointments has grown, with 90% of the Information Commissions headed by retired civil servants. It adds, more than 43% of the Information Commissioners are from civil services background. "This is the trend despite the Supreme Court’s directive in 2013 to identify candidates in other fields of specialisation mentioned in the RTI Act for appointment", complains CHRI's senior RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak.
According to the report, only 8.25% of the serving SCICs and ICs are women. There are only nine women in all the Information Commissions put together, and of these, three are retired civil servants.
The report regrets, the websites of SICs of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar cannot be detected on any Internet browser, adding, the SICs of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have not published any annual report so far. Jharkhand and Kerala SICs each have six pending annual reports. And Punjab has five and Andhra Pradesh, four pending reports.
Despite the absence of their latest annual reports, the Central Government (57.43 lakhs/5.74 million) and the State Governments of Maharashtra (54.95 lakhs/5.49 million) and Karnataka (20.73 lakhs/2.07 million) continue to top the list of jurisdictions receiving the most number of information requests, the report says, adding, Gujarat (9.86 lakhs) recorded more RTI applications than neighbouring Rajasthan (8.55 lakhs) where the demand for RTI has emerged from the grassroots.
It continues, despite having much lower levels of literacy, Chhattisgarh (6.02 lakh) logged more RTI applications than the 100% literate Kerala (5.73 lakhs). Despite being much smaller sized States, Himachal Pradesh (4.24 lakhs), Punjab (3.60 lakhs) and Haryana (3.32 lakhs) registered more RTI applications each than the geographically bigger State of Odisha (2.85 lakhs).

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