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Information Commissions: People have to wait for months, even years, for case to be heard

By Anjali Bhardwaj, Amrita Johri* 

The Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) has compiled a Report Card on the performance of the 29 information commissions (ICs) set up under the Right to Information (RTI) Act across the country. The report can be accessed by clicking here.
Highlights of the report:
  • There is lack of diversity in the composition of information commissions, nearly 60% commissioners being retired government officials. Merely 10% of all commissioners across the country have been women. Currently no commission is headed by a woman.
  • Large number of cases being returned by ICs - Several ICs were found to be returning a very large number of cases without passing any orders. The CIC, Uttar Pradesh SIC and Andhra Pradesh SIC returned around 40% of the appeals/complaints received by them.
  • Tardy disposal rate - Several commissions have an extremely low rate of disposal per commissioner. For instance, the SIC of West Bengal had an annual average disposal rate of 222 cases per commissioner - each commissioner effectively disposing less than one case a day - even though more than 10,000 cases were pending. Of all the 29 information commissions, only the CIC has adopted a norm regarding the number of appeals/complaints to be disposed by each commissioner in one year.
  • Lack of timely and transparent appointments - Many commissions are functioning at reduced capacity and without a chief due to governments not filling vacancies in a timely manner. SICs of Jharkhand and Tripura are completely defunct as no new commissioners have been appointed upon the incumbents demitting office.
  • Low disposal rates and vacancies in commissions are leading to large backlog of cases and long waiting time for information seekers. The number of appeals and complaints pending on June 30, 2022 in the 26 information commissions, from which data was obtained, stood at 3.14 lakh. Maharashtra SIC with an alarming backlog of nearly 1,00,000 (one lakh) had the highest number of appeals/complaints pending as of June 30, 2022. People are having to wait for months, even years, to get their case heard. The estimated waiting time for disposal of a new case in West Bengal SIC was found to be 24 years and 3 months. In Odisha and Maharashtra SICs, estimated time for disposal was more than 5 years. The assessment shows that 12 commissions would take one year or more to dispose a matter.
  • Penalty was imposed in just 3% of the cases disposed by Information Commissions.
  • The SIC of Tamil Nadu was found to have the worst performing IC in terms of responsiveness under the RTI Act furnishing only 14% of the information sought. Most of the information- including regarding the number of appeals and complaints dealt with by the IC, details of penalty imposed & compensation awarded- was denied stating that the information could be provided only “after getting the approval of State Legislative Assembly”, though no such provisions exists in the RTI Act.
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*On behalf of Satark Nagrik Sangathan

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