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How reliable is CIC claim? RTIs to Govt of India 'rose by 6.55% during 2nd year of pandemic'

By Venkatesh Nayak* 

Parliament's Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (the Standing Committee), recently pulled up the Central Information Commission (CIC) for relying on contractual staff for doing its mandated work while sanctioned posts of full time employees continued to remain vacant. In its 126th Report on the Demand for Grants made by the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions the Standing Committee also took note of the fact that 95 public authorities had not submitted quarterly data to the CIC about the implementation of The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act). 
As part of the annual exercise of vetting the Ministry's demand for grants, the Standing Committee not only perused the CIC's Annual Report (AR) for the year 2021-22 but also reproduced a couple of pages from it as evidence while making the above observations. Given the limited extent to which the Standing Committee examined the AR, there is little discussion on the performance of the transparency regime established by the RTI Act at the Union level, in its report submitted to Parliament last month.
The CIC's AR is prepared in accordance with the mandate of Section 25 of the RTI Act for reporting on the performance of the transparency regime to Parliament every year. It contains a wealth of statistics with regard to the receipt and disposal of RTI applications, first appeals and second appeals amongst others across Central level Public authorities. The latest AR was tabled in the Lok Sabha on 21 December, 2022 and in the Rajya Sabha, the next day. After uploading the AR on its website (date of uploading is not known), the CIC, as always, has done precious little to publicise its contents even though the RTI Act is arguably the most popular of laws on the statute book. Consequently, the latest AR had escaped the attention of much of the mass media as well.
The CIC has presented some macro-level findings in the narrative portion of its AR. However, the more interesting facets of the performance of the more than two thousand public authorities under the Union Government lie within the data tables annexed to the AR. An analysis of the data throws up many issues of concern which the CIC has not addressed in the narrative portion of the AR, as usual. The analysis also throws up several questions about the reliability or otherwise of the data presented in Annexure-I as well as the findings claimed by the CIC in the narrative portion of the AR.
Given below is the first set of our findings from a preliminary analysis of the implementation data published in the CIC's AR. In several places we have compared the latest implementation statistics with those of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the immediately preceding year. The attached spreadsheet contains implementation figures reported by the CIC in the latest AR as well as the ARs of 2020-21 and 2019-20 across 75 entities- Ministries, standalone Departments, key public authorities and the Union Territories administration. The second set of observations and comments will be released shortly.

Major findings

  • As many as 270 public authorities registered for the RTI Online Facility set up by the Union Government have not submitted their RTI annual implementation statistics to the CIC, and not just 95 as mentioned in its AR and as taken note of by the Standing Committee in its 126th Report submitted to Parliament;
  • The newly set up Union Ministry of Cooperation does not seem to have reported its RTI statistics to the CIC. The Union Territory of Ladakh did not submit its RTI data to the CIC for the third year in a row;
  • There is a 6.55% increase in the number of RTI applications submitted to the Union Government in 2021-22 as compared with the figures reported for 2020-21. It is also 3.51% higher than the figures reported in 2019-20. Clearly, the second wave of the pandemic did not prove to be a dampener on the enthusiasm of the citizenry to demand greater levels of transparency from the Union Government;
  • One in every two RTI applications submitted to the Union Government in 2021-22 was handled by public authorities under one or the other of these Ministries: Finance, Corporate Affairs, Railways, Communications and Education. The Corporate Affairs Ministry reported about 78,000 more RTI applications in 2021-22 as compared with 2020-21- a 123% increase. However, the highest proportion of increase in RTI applications- 131.79% was reported by the Tribal Affairs Ministry in 2021-22;
  • A hike in RTI application figures in 2021-22 between 15-36% was reported by the Ministries of Earth Sciences (36.36%), Development of Northeastern Region (32.35%), Chemicals and Fertilisers (30.12%), Law and Justice (24.61%), Petroleum and Natural Gas (24.60%), Culture (23.29%), Commerce and Industry (19.40%), Road Transport and Highways (19.6%), Coal (17.96%) and External Affairs (17.62%);
  • Delhi High Court reported a steep rise of 81.36% in RTI receipts while the Indian Navy reported an increase of 11.72% during the same period;
  • The UT Administration of Andaman and Nicobar reported a 36.2% increase in the RTIs received in 2021-22 while Delhi reported a modest increase of 11.51%;
  • Jammu and Kashmir administration reported a 31.44% decline in RTI applications received while that of Lakshadweep reported a fall of more than 8%;
  • The steepest decline in RTI receipts was reported by these Ministries: Labour and Employment (54.38%), Textiles (31.5%), Information and Broadcasting reported (18.88%), Panchayati Raj (13.67%), Jal Shakti (13.1%) and Electronics and Information Technology (12.2%);
  • NITI Aayog reported a 48.76% decline in the number of RTI applications received in 2021-22 as compared with the 2020-21 figure while the Cabinet Secretariat reported a 24.24% fall. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) reported a 7.4% decline and the President's Secretariat registered a 4.46% fall;
  • With a backlog of 4.10 lakh (410,907) RTI applications at the start of the 2021-22, the Union Government (including UT figures) reported a 17.94% increase over the backlog figures reported in 2020-21. The Ministries of Defence, Education, Housing and Urban Affairs, Railways and Finance accounted for 63.84% of this backlog. Only 29,769 RTI applications were pending with the UTs at the start of 2021-22;
  • The steepest rise in backlog figures was reported by these Ministries: Railways (335.96%), Corporate Affairs (220.90%), Tribal Affairs (248.57%), Health and Family Welfare (188.53%) and Home Affairs (131.96%). The CIC reported a 290.70% rise in backlog;
  • The Ministries of Panchayati Raj and Parliamentary Affairs did not have any backlog at the start of 2021-22;
  • Some Ministries and key public authorities which reported a decline in backlog RTIs at the start of 2021-22 as compared to the previous year are: Statistics and Programme Implementation (-82.68%), Personnel (-80.55%), PMO (-73.48%), Department of Space (-55.51%), Mines (-48.79%), Textiles (-42.29%), Commerce and Industry (-32.99%) and Road Transport and Highways (-30.88%);
  • Various public authorities across the Union Government transferred 2.04 lakh (204,607) RTI applications under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act in 2021-22. In comparison with the figures reported in 2020-21 this is a 4.71% increase. A large number of Ministries reported hikes in the proportion of RTIs transferred in 2021-22 as compared with the figures reported in 2020-21. The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs transferred out six out of every ten RTI applications received while the Law and Justice Ministry transferred out one of every three RTI applications in 2021-22;
  • 2,278 public authorities across the Union Government reportedly collected a sum of INR 66.80 lakhs (66,80,597.80) as application fee and additional fee. This is 0.10% lesser than the amount collected in 2020-21 and 36.38% lesser than the amount collected in 2019-20 despite the fact that fewer RTI applications were filed in these two preceding years and fewer public authorities;
  • The public authorities collected a total of INR 46.94 lakhs (INR 4.69 million) as application fee in 2021-22. This is 3.11% more than the figure reported in 2020-21. They also collected INR 19,85,783.80 (INR 19.85 lakhs or 1.98 million) as additional fee or information reproduction charges. This is 6.96% lesser than the 2020-21 figure;
  • The mismatch between the number of RTI applications reported by the public authorities (14.21 lakhs) and the amount of application fee collected (INR 46.94 lakhs) as per the data published in the AR is unmistakably visible. The public authorities are either not reporting the correct amounts of RTI application fee collected because they are unable to encash the fee payment instruments in a timely manner or they are presenting inflated figures by counting every transferred RTI application as a fresh one [see detailed analysis at segment (#V) below];
  • At row #7 of the data table in Annexure-I of the 2021-22 AR, the CIC gives the figure for “Total number of RTI replied” as 11,31,757. How has the CIC arrived at this figure is a big mystery;
  • A total of 53,733 RTI applications (4% of the total) were rejected by public authorities across the Union Government. This is 4.56% more than the proportion of rejection reported in 2020-21. However, there is a major discrepancy within the CIC’s AR regarding the actual numbers for rejection. In one place it is shown as 53,733 RTIs and in another it is shown as 55,124 which seems to be the correct figure. However, of which figure pertaining to RTI applications received in 2021-22 is this a proportion is a mystery [see detailed analysis at segment (#VI) below];
  • Almost two-thirds of the RTI applications were rejected for reasons other than permissible grounds contained in Sections 8, 9, 11 and 24 of the RTI Act. The rejection under the dubious “Others” category accounts for 32.56% (17,944 instances) in 2021-22.
Please scroll below for our detailed analysis and findings. The attached spreadsheet contains the following data tables from the year 2021-22 to 2019-20 in descending order:
  1. On Sheet 1: the combined RTI statistics for the Union Government;
  2. On Sheet 2: data tables for all Ministries and the standalone Departments of Atomic and Energy and Space in descending order of the number of fresh RTI applications received in 2021-22;
  3. On Sheet 3: data tables for key constitutional and public authorities at the Union level;
  4. On Sheet 4: data tables for the three defence forces; and
  5. On Sheet 5: data tables for the Union Territories Administration.

Detailed findings

The first set of findings from our preliminary study of the CIC's latest AR in comparison with those of the immediately preceding years is presented under the following segments:
I. Compliance with regard to the reporting obligation
II. Trends with regard to the volume of RTI applications
III Trends with regard to the backlog of RTI applications
IV Trends with regard to the transfer of RTI applications
V Trends with regard to fees collected
VI Macro-level trends with regard to the rejection of RTI applications

I. Compliance with regard to the reporting obligation

a) 2,278 of the 2,383 Central level public authorities registered with the CIC submitted their RTI statistics for preparing the latest Annual Report (AR). According to the CIC, this amounts to 95.59% compliance. While the number of registered public authorities increased by 108 over the 2020-21 figure (2,275 public authorities), compliance was slightly higher at 95.91% in 2020-21. In 2019-20, although only 2,131 public authorities registered with the CIC, compliance was much higher at 97.17%;
b) However, according to the RTI Online Facility that the Union Government has set up for electronic submission of RTI applications, there are 2,548 public authorities under its jurisdiction. Despite 17 years of implementation of the RTI Act, all public authorities are not dutifully registering themselves with the CIC for filing RTI-related returns. 270 of them are not complying with the statutory obligation of reporting to the CIC through their respective ministries. This is an area of concern which is not mentioned either in the 2021-22 AR or the Standing Committee's report to Parliament;
c) Interestingly, the newly set up Union Ministry of Cooperation does not seem to have reported its RTI statistics to the CIC, nor does it figure in the AR in the list of public authorities who have not submitted their RTI implementation statistics to the CIC. However, this Ministry is registered with the RTI Online Facility and its website also displays the office order designating Public Information Officers (PIOs) and First Appellate Authorities (FAAs); and
d) The Union Territory of Ladakh did not submit its RTI data to the CIC for the third year in a row.

II. Trends with regard to the volume of RTI applications

Readers may take note of the fact that the CIC's 2021-22 AR is the second one which spans an entire year of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, statistics regarding the submission and disposal of RTI applications and appeals are of particular interest to RTI-watchers given the measures taken to stem the second wave of the pandemic and the work-from-home (WFH) arrangement which affected the performance of hundreds of public authorities that were not at the frontline of the containment exercise. In our analysis of the CIC's AR for 2020-21 we had pointed out that there was only a 2.95% dip in the volume of RTIs (13.33 lakhs or 1.33 million) filed in that year as compared to the volume reported in 2019-20 (13.74 lakhs or 1.37 million).

a) Upward trend

i) A total of 14.21 lakh (1.42 million) RTI requests were submitted to the Central public authorities in 2021-22. This is a 6.55% increase over the figures reported in 2019-20. It is also 3.51% higher than the figures reported in 2019-20 (13.74 lakhs or 1.37 million). Clearly, the second wave of the pandemic did not act as a dampener on the enthusiasm of the citizenry to demand greater levels of transparency from the Union Government;
ii) The total figures mentioned above include the RTI application statistics from the Union Territories (UTs) administration as well. So, if the figure of 1.35 lakh (135,000) RTI applications filed with the UTs is deducted from the aforementioned total figure for 2021-22, the number of RTIs filed with the Central level public authorities exclusively becomes 12.86 lakhs (1.28 million). This is a 6.4% increase over the figures reported for 2020-21. Central level public authorities (minus UTs) received 12.39 lakh (1.23 million) RTIs in 2019-20. When compared with this figure the increase in numbers in 2021-22 is 3.74%;
iii) The largest increase in terms of the absolute number of RTI applications filed in 2021-22 was reported by public authorities under the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs. Almost 78,000 more RTI requests were filed with this Ministry as compared with the figures reported in 2020-21. This is a 123% increase. However, the largest percentage increase in RTI applications was reported by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs at 131.79%. In 2021-22 this Ministry reported 1,852 RTI applications as compared with only 799 in 2020-21. The Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare reported an 85.86% increase in the RTI application figures for 2021-22 (14,127) as compared with the figures for 2020-21 (7,601);
iv) The CIC's AR lists the top-20 Ministries and public authorities which reported the most number of RTI applications. The topper on this list as always is- the Union Finance Ministry with 179 public authorities such as banks, insurance companies, debt recovery tribunals, and various tax authorities. The Finance Ministry reported 1.79 lakh (179,393) RTI applications in 2021-22 - a modest increase of about 5.2% over the 2020-21 figures. However, this is 12.70% fewer RTI applications than what was reported in 2019-20 (1.92 lakhs or 192,204). We have explored the downward trend in the number of RTIs submitted across Ministries in the next sub-section;
v) Occupying second place, the Union Ministry of Railways reported an increase of 17.83% in the RTI application figures in 2021-22 (1.45 lakhs or 145,549) as compared with the figures reported in 2020-21 (1.23 lakhs or 123,527). The Ministry of Corporate Affairs mentioned above, takes third place followed by the Ministry of Communications at fourth place reporting a 12.38% increase in 2021-22 (1.14 lakhs or 114,728) as compared with 2020-21 (102,085). As the performance of the UTs administration is discussed below separately we are not including the UT of Delhi here despite the fact that the CIC has placed them at fifth position. So, by our reckoning, among Central Ministries, the Union Ministry of Education occupies the fifth place with a 10.14% increase in 2021-22 (94,208) as compared with 2020-21 (85,535). Taken together, these top-5 Union Ministries account for 46.26% of the total number of RTI applications received by the Union Government in 2021-22. If the figures reported by the UTs administration is deducted, this proportion increases to 51.11% (657,405 RTI applications). In other words, one in every two RTI applications submitted to the Union Government was handled by public authorities under one or the other of these top-5 Ministries;
vi) The CIC's top-20 list leaves out the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare (14,127 RTI applications) despite the fact that it reported more RTI applications than the Union Ministry of Law and Justice (13,425 RTI applications) in 2021-22. If the Agriculture Ministry is included in the CIC's list, it would occupy the 16th position. This Ministry reported a 85.85% increase in RTIs over the 2020-21 figure (7,601). It is also 50.50% higher than the figure reported by the Ministry in 2019-20 (10,288). The Department of Atomic Energy reported 42.45% more RTIs (6,855) in 2021-22 as compared with the 2020-21 figures (4812). It is also 35.47% higher than the 2019-20 figure (5,148 RTI applications);
vii) The Department of Space reported a 68.89% increase in RTIs (2,861 applications) in 2021-22 as compared with the 2020-21 figure (1,694 applications). The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports reported a 36.76% increase in RTIs (2,119 applications) in 2021-22 as compared with the 2020-21 figure (1,340 applications). Although the numbers reported by the Ministries of Earth Sciences and the Development of Northeastern Region are very small compared with the larger ones discussed above, both registered a significant increase in RTIs in 2021-22. The Ministry of Earth Sciences reported a 36.36% increase in 2021-22 (923 applications) over the 2020-21 figure (677 applications). The Ministry for the Development of Northeastern Region registered a 32.35% increase in 2021-22 (214 applications) over the 2020-21 figure (145 applications); and
viii) A hike in RTI application figures in 2021-22 but of lesser magnitude (15-30%) was also reported by the Ministries of Chemicals and Fertilisers (30.12%), Law and Justice (24.61%), Petroleum and Natural Gas (24.60%), Culture (23.29%), Commerce and Industry (19.40%), Road Transport and Highways (19.6%), Coal (17.96%) and External Affairs (17.62%);
ix) Interestingly, the Delhi High Court reported a steep rise of 81.36% in the number of RTI applications received in 2021-22 (1,610) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (888 applications). The Supreme Court of India reported an increase of 8.82% in RTI receipts in 2021-22. The Election Commission of India reported an increase of 25.25% in RTI applications received in 2021-22 (3,472) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (2,772 applications).
x) Among the three defence forces only the Indian Navy reported an increase in RTI receipts. It received 11.72% more RTI applications in 2021-22 (5,222) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (4,124 applications);
xi) The CIC itself received 9.38% more RTI applications in 2021-2022 (2,111) as compared with the figure reported in 2020-21 (1,930 applications); and
xii) Among the UTs, Andaman and Nicobar administration reported an increase of 36.2% while Dadra, Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu reported an 18.1% increase in RTI applications received in 2021-22. The Delhi Government reported an 11.51% increase in the number of RTIs received in 2021-22 (1.13 lakhs or 1,13,347) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (1.01 lakhs or 1,01,647 applications).

b) Downward trend

i) At 54.38% the Ministry of Labour and Employment reported the sharpest decline in the receipt of RTI applications during 2021-22 (54,273 applications) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (1,18,957 applications). This is also lower than the figure (80,978 applications) reported in 2019-20. The Ministry of Textiles reported a 31.5% decline in RTIs in 2021-22 (2,123 applications) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (3,099 applications). The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting reported a 18.88% decline in RTI applications in 2021-22 (6,592) as compared with the figure in 2020-21 (8,126 applications). While the Ministry of Panchayati Raj reported a 13.67% dip in the RTI applications received in 2021-22 (7,109) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (8,234 applications), the Ministry of Jal Shakti reported a 13.1% reduction in RTIs in 2021-22 (5,566) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (6,404 applications). The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology reported a 12.2% dip in RTI requests (7,397) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (8,425 applications);
ii) The Ministries of Home Affairs, Health and Family Welfare, Civil Aviation, Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Environment and Forests, Housing and Urban Affairs, Social Justice and Empowerment, Ayush, Minority Affairs, Parliamentary Affairs and Food Processing reported a decline of less than 10% in RTI receipts in 2021-22 as compared with the 2020-21 figures;
iii) The NITI Aayog reported a 48.76% decline in the number of RTI applications received in 2021-22 (1,089) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (1,620 applications) while the Cabinet Secretariat reported a 24.24% fall in the number of RTI applications received in 2021-22 (1,494) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (1,972 applications). The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) reported a 7.4% decline in RTIs received in 2021-22 while the President's Secretariat reported a 4.46% fall;
iv) Among the three defence forces, both the Indian Army (9,978) and the Indian Air Force (6,580) reported a decline of more than 13% each in the number of RTI applications received in 2021-22; and
v) Among the UTs, Jammu and Kashmir reported a 31.44% decline in the number of RTI receipts in 2021-22 (1,099) as compared with the 2020-21 figure (1,603). Chandigarh reported a decline of 13.47% in RTI receipts while Lakshadweep reported a fall of 8.25%.

III. Trends with regard to the backlog of RTI applications

The Union Government as a whole reported a backlog of 4.10 lakh (410,907) RTI applications at the start of the 2021-22 reporting year (including the backlog of UTs). In 2020-21 the backlog reported at the commencement of that year was 3.48 lakh (348,410) RTI applications. This is a 17.94% increase in the size of the backlog. The contribution of the UTs to the total figure of 2021-22 was only 29,769 RTI applications;

a) Upward trend

i) With 1.24 lakh (124,184) RTI applications pending at the start of 2021-22 the Ministry of Defence accounted for 30.22% of the total backlog of the Union Government, followed by the Ministry of Education with a backlog of 72,383 RTIs carried over from 2020-21. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs reported a backlog of 42,078 RTI applications making it the third largest figure. The Ministry of Railways reported a backlog of 23,686 RTI applications while the Finance Ministry put its backlog figure at 17,804 at the start of 2021-22. Together these five Ministries accounted for 63.84% of the total backlog reported by the Union Government;
ii) Among the Union Ministries which receive a large number of RTI applications, the steepest spike in backlog volume at the start of the year 2021-22 as compared to the backlog volume at the commencement of the year 2020-21 was reported by the Railways (335.96%) followed by Corporate Affairs (220.90%) Tribal Affairs (248.57%), Health and Family Welfare (188.53%) and Home Affairs (131.96%). The rise in the RTIs backlog of the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry was 196.70% even though it has received less than 10,000 RTI applications per year since 2019-20. Interestingly, despite reporting high backlog figures at the start of 2021-22, the rise in the volume as compared with the backlog at the start of 2020-21, was much lesser in the Ministries of Finance (17.82%) and Housing and Urban Affairs (18.11%);
iii) Other Ministries which reported a rise in the RTI backlog between 50-70% are: Coal (67.36%), Law and Justice (61.81%), Commerce and Industry (62.07%), Chemicals and Fertilisers (59.80%);
iv) The CIC reported a 290.70% rise in backlog at the start of 2021-22 as compared with the 2020-21 figure. NITI Aayog reported a 325% rise in the RTI backlog in 2021-22. The Indian Air Force reported a 47.28% rise in backlog figures while the Indian Navy reported a 37.10% rise. Delhi Police reported a 73.19% increase in the RTI backlog; and
v) Among the UTs, Lakshadweep reported a 64.78% rise in the backlog of RTI applications at the start of the year 2021-22 while Chandigarh reported an increase of 47.36%. Although Jammu and Kashmir reported only 94 RTI applications carried over from 2020-21, it was nevertheless a 683.33% increase over the 2019-20 figure (12 RTI applications).

b) Downward trend

i) Only the Ministries of Panchayati Raj and Parliamentary Affairs did not have any backlog of RTI applications at the start of 2021-22 even though they reported a backlog of seven and 20 RTI applications, respectively, at the beginning of 2020-21;
ii) Some Ministries and key public authorities reported a decline in the backlog of RTI applications at the start of 2021-22 as compared with the 2020-21 figures. These are: Statistics and Programme Implementation (-82.68%), Personnel (-80.55%), PMO (-73.48%), Department of Space (-55.51%), Mines (-48.79%), Textiles (-42.29%), Commerce and Industry (-32.99%) and Road Transport and Highways (-30.88%); and
iii) The UT of Andaman and Nicobar reported almost 87% decline in the backlog of RTI applications at the start of 2021-22, while Delhi reported a fall of 10.25%.

IV. Trends with regard to the transfer of RTI applications

a) Upward trend

i) Various public authorities across the Union Government transferred 2.04 lakh (204,607) RTI applications under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act in 2021-22. This is 14.40% of the total number of RTI applications (14.21 lakh or 1.42 million) submitted by citizens during this period. In comparison with the figures reported in 2020-21 this is a 4.71% increase;
ii) The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs transferred out 60.42% of the RTI applications received in 2021-22. In other words, six out of every ten RTIs were transferred to public authorities outside the Ministry. This inference can be safely drawn because this Ministry does not have multiple public authorities under its jurisdiction unlike the Ministries of Agriculture, Finance or Education. Nevertheless, the proportion of transfers did decline slightly when compared with the 2020-21 figure (61.65%). The Ministry of Law and Justice transferred 34.08% of the RTI applications received during the same period either among the 45 public authorities under its jurisdiction or outside the Ministry. The Ministries of Food Processing and Information and Broadcasting each transferred more than 29% of the RTI applications received in 2021-22. The Ministries which reported high figures for transfers in 2021-22 include Defence (28.30%), Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (22.53%) and Ayush (20.07%). Several other Ministries reported transfers between 10-20% of the RTI applications received in 2021-22. Many of them reported a much higher proportion of transfers in 2021-22 as compared with the proportion of RTI applications transferred in 2020-21 (see Sheet no. 2 of the attached data table);
iii) The proportion of RTIs transferred by the PMO increased from 30.26% in 2020-21 to 31.04% in 2021-22. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s office transferred more than 43% of the RTIs received in 2021-22 while this proportion was only 9.35% in 2020-21. Other key public authorities which reported higher proportion of transfers are Election Commission of India (39.63% in 2021-22 as compared with 27.49% in 2020-21), Delhi High Court (16.65% in 2021-22 as compared with 9.23% in 2020-21), CIC (15.35% in 2021-22 as compared with 9.48% in 2020-21), Indian Navy (25.42% in 2021-22 as compared with 16.57% in 2020-21) and the UT administration of Lakshadweep (18.62% in 2021-22 as compared with 10.36% in 2020-21).

b) Downward trend

i) The proportion of RTIs transferred by the President’s Secretariat fell from 28.53% reported in 2020-21 to just 8.5% in 2021-22;
ii) Ministries and key public authorities which reported a decline in the proportion of RTIs transferred out are as follows: Railways (10.77% in 2021-22 as compared with 13.58% in 2020-21), Health and Family Welfare (10.72% in 2021-22 as compared with 17.21% in 2020-21), Panchayati Raj (2.49% in 2021-22 as compared with 7.21% in 2020-21), Micro, Medium and Small Enterprises (13.55% in 2021-22 as compared with 18.08% in 2020-21), Cabinet Secretariat (53.41% in 2021-22 as compared with 60.50% in 2020-21), UT of Delhi (37.59% in 2021-22 as compared with 41.82% in 2020-21) and Jammu and Kashmir (4.73% in 2021-22 as compared with 38.74% in 2020-21).

V. Trends with regard to the fees collected

i) According to the CIC, 2,278 public authorities across the Union Government reportedly collected a sum of INR 66.80 lakhs (66,80,597.80) as application fee and additional fee (reproduction charges) from RTI applicants in 2021-22. This is 0.10% lesser than the collection of INR 66,87,423 reported in 2020-21. Interestingly, the fee collected seems to be falling despite an increase in the number of public authorities reporting to the CIC and a 6.55% increase in the number of RTI applications filed across these public authorities in 2021-22. In 2019-20 the pre-pandemic year, the total fee collected was INR 91.13 lakhs (INR 91,13,958). In other words, there is a 36.38% decline in the fee amount collected in 2021-22 as compared with the pre-pandemic year despite the fact that the public authorities received 3.41% more RTIs in 2021-22 as compared with the 2019-20 figure;
ii) The public authorities collected a total of INR 46.94 lakhs (INR 4.69 million) as application fee in 2021-22. This is 3.11% more than the figure reported in 2020-21 (INR 45.53 lakhs or 4.55 million). Interestingly, the increase in the number of RTI applications as noted at segment no. II above is 6.55%;
iii) In our analysis of the CIC's AR for 2020-21 we had pointed out that the mismatch between the number of RTI applications reported by the public authorities and the amount of application fee collected as per the data published in the AR is unmistakable. The same trend continues in 2021-22. If the total number of RTI applications received by the 2,278 public authorities across the Union Government in 2021-22 is 14.21 lakhs (14,21,126), assuming for the time being that all of them were submitted by citizens above the poverty line (APL), the total application fee collected at the rate of INR 10/- would have been INR 1.42 crores (INR 14,212,260/-). However, according to the CIC the public authorities collected only INR 46.94 lakhs (INR 4.69 million) as application fee. So, this will imply the existence of at least 4.69 lakh (469,481) unique RTI applications for which the application fee would have been paid each time (this figure cannot be equated with the number of unique applicants because many would have filed multiple RTI applications in a year). In other words, the remaining applications i.e., 9.51 lakhs (951,745) might have been filed by applicants below the poverty line (BPL). This would imply that almost 67% of the 14.21 lakh RTI applications were submitted by BPL applicants. This is highly unlikely.
Further, if 2.04 lakhs (204,607) being the number of RTI applications reported as transferred to other public authorities in 2021-22 is deducted from the total volume of 14.21 lakh RTI applications, the application fee that ought to have been collected (assuming temporarily that all of them were filed by APL applicants) would be INR 1.21 crores (INR 12,166,190/-). But the total application fee collected, as mentioned above, is only INR 46.94 lakhs (INR 4.69 million). So, if we deduct 4.69 lakh RTI applications as having been filed by APL applicants, the remaining 7.47 lakh (747,038) RTI applications ought to have been filed by BPL applicants. This would imply that more than 52% of the 14.21 lakh RTI applications were submitted by BPL applicants. This is also highly unlikely.
The data mismatch between the number of RTI applications and the application fee collected may be explained by one of the two possibilities:
a) The public authorities might not be encashing in a timely manner the fee payment instruments such as bank drafts and Indian Postal Orders (IPOs) through which application fee is submitted as per the 2012 RTI Rules and therefore there is under-reporting to the CIC year after year; or
b) The public authorities are counting each instance of transfer of an RTI application and recording it as a fresh RTI application in the register of the recipient public authority. The RTI Act and the Rules do not permit the collection of application fees afresh for the transferred RTI application. So, the application fee totals will remain low.
In May 2022, I had commented on this issue based on an analysis of the manner in which the number of RTI applications which I had submitted to the Union Government was being counted by the RTI Online Facility. It recorded many more RTI applications to my credit than what I had actually filed by counting every transferred RTI application as a unique one. If the first scenario is true, it calls for auditing the RTI fee account books of the public authorities. If the latter scenario is true, the annual RTI application figures being reported to and by the CIC might be grossly inflated. In either scenario the data mismatch calls for a deeper investigation by the CIC into this phenomenon.
iii) The CIC reports that a total of INR 19,85,783.80 (INR 19.85 lakhs or 1.98 million) was collected as additional fee or information reproduction charges. This is 6.96% less than the 2020-21 figure (INR 21.34 lakhs or 2.34 million). Is this because the public authorities provided more information free of charge in 2021-22? The CIC has not commented on this issue;
iv) Interestingly, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research- Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai collected INR 2,647.80/- as additional fee which is why the 80 paise is part of the total fee amount mentioned in the previous paragraph. The 2012 RTI Rules notified by the Union Government permit the collection of INR 2/- per page as copying charges and INR 50/- for supplying information in electronic form, how and why did the Chennai Institute collect 80 paise as additional fee is a mystery. The CIC has also published this data without any comment.

VI. Macro-level trends with regard to the rejection of RTI applications

i) According to the CIC’s 2021-22 AR, a total of 53,733 RTI applications (4% of the total) were rejected by public authorities across the Union Government. This is 4.56% more RTI applications rejected than the figure reported in 2020-21 (51,390 or 3.85%). In the pre-pandemic year of 2019-20 58,634 RTI applications are reported to have been rejected (58,634);
ii) However, there is a discrepancy between the total number of rejections and percentage as calculated at row #7 of the data tables contained in Annexure I of the CIC’s AR and the total that is displayed at the bottom of the data tables after the clause-wise rejections are reported upon. The figure mentioned at the bottom of the data table is 55,124 instances of rejection. This is a discrepancy of more than 1,391 cases. In the case of some public authorities and Ministries the totals in row #8 of Annexure-I (see page no. 179) and the total at the bottom of the data table tally with each other. In other cases they do tally. So the discrepancy might be due to a glitch in the data entry software or it might be due to errors committed during data entry by the representatives of the public authorities. Wherever there is a discrepancy in the totals, the figure mentioned in row #8 is highlighted in red coloured font in the attached spreadsheet for the convenience of readers and researchers. The correct tally is mentioned in the last column of every data table;
iii) What is also unclear is how the CIC has arrived at the 4% figure. Is this a proportion of the number of RTI applications received in 2021-22 or the total figure that was pending disposal at the end of 2021-22? If the former is the case, the proportion of rejection works out to 3.78%. If the latter is the case, the proportion of rejection works out to 2.93%. So, in either scenario, the figure of 4% is not accurate;
iv) At row #7 of the data table in Annexure-I of the 2021-22 AR, the CIC gives the figure for “Total number of RTI replied” as 11,31,757. This data element was introduced for the first time in the AR of 2019-20 but it went missing in the AR of 2020-21. It has been reintroduced in the latest AR. In 2019-20 the total number of RTIs replied was shown as 10,86,657 out of 16,84,425 RTI applications (backlog from 2018-19 plus fresh receipts in 2019-20). In other words, 5,97,768 remained to be replied at the end of the year 2019-20. Logic dictates that this balance figure ought to have been shown as the backlog for the year 2020-21 in the next AR. However, this is not the case. The balance figure at the start of 2020-21 is shown as 3,48,410. So how the figure for “total number of RTI replied” is derived, is a mystery not explained in the narrative portion of the ARs. Nevertheless, if this figure of 11,31,757 for 2021-22 is taken into account the proportion of rejection will work out to 4.74%. So how has the CIC arrived at the figure of 4% as the proportion of rejection is an unresolved mystery;
v) Further, in 2021-22 almost two-thirds of the RTI applications are reported to have been rejected for reasons other than permissible grounds contained in Sections 8, 9, 11 and 24 of the RTI Act. The rejection under the dubious “Others” category accounts for 32.56% (17,944 instances) of the total number of rejections. In 2020-21 only 32.29% rejections (17,286 instances) were made under the “Others” category. Despite a marginal rise, this category of rejections is significantly lesser than the 38.69% rejections recorded under “Others” category in the pre-pandemic year of 2019-20.

End Note

The foregoing preliminary analysis of the trends with regard to the submission and the disposal of RTI applications is only the first set. Soon we will disseminate the second set of preliminary analysis with regard to the clause-wise trends of rejection of RTI applications, the submission and disposal of appeals by public authorities and the CIC as well as trends with regard to the workload of Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities. Based on this first set of preliminary analysis it must be pointed out that the CIC does not appear to have deeply examined the data submitted by public authorities, ministries and departments. After 17 years of enforcement of the RTI Act, the CIC must make the effort to redefine its role from being a mere accountant of RTI statistics to that of an auditor of the performance of ministries, departments and public authorities vis-à-vis their obligations under the regime of transparency established by the RTI Act.
I am grateful to Priyanshi Bajpai of the Gujarat National Law University who interned with us this year, for all help with the data collection.
---
*Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi. Click here for data tables

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