New Delhi: For every six cases it accepted for hearing and investigation during 2018, the Central Information Commission (CIC) rejected four, an analysis of its functioning has revealed. March stood out in the annals of the institution constituted to uphold the transparency and flow of information, since it rejected more appeals than it accepted during the month.
High pendency and rejection worrying activists
This rejection of appeals, coming at a time when the CIC is working at a depleted strength of just three commissioners as against the sanctioned 11, has impacted the transparency movement. Not only do appellants have to wait longer to get their appeals addressed, they also face a higher rejection rate.
According to right to information activist, Commodore (Retd.) Lokesh Batra, the CIC’s refusal to accept so many complaints and appeals stood out because it did not initiate any action to increase awareness among the appellants to reduce these figures. The pendency of complaints and appeals at the commission stood at 27,544 cases at the end of the year.
‘No effort to create awareness’
To question the CIC is akin to acting like the “guardian of transparency in the country”, he said. “[The] CIC has made no effort to create awareness among citizens to ensure that not a single case is returned to the appellant or complainant.”
Data analysed by Batra revealed that the CIC registered a total of 24,197 cases in 2018. It also returned a total of 16,260 cases – constituting 40.20% of all complaints filed with it. Out of the cases returned, 13,683 were those which returned under RTI Rules 2012.
Right to Information Rules, 2012, stipulate that an appeal may be returned to the appellant, if it is not accompanied with the specified documents. Rule 8 specifies that this may be done for “removing the deficiencies and filing the appeal – complete in all respects.”
Most appeals do not adhere to format
Many of the complaints are also getting rejected as they do not adhere to the specified format. The RTI rules also prescribe that an appeal to the commission needs to be made in a set style and should be accompanied with certain documents, which have been authenticated and verified by the appellant.
The documents that are required to be submitted with the appeal include: a copy of application submitted to the central public information officer; the reply received from the CPIO; copy of the order, if any, from the first appellate authority; copies of other documents relied upon and referred to by the complainant/appellant; and index of the documents referred to.
Some appeals also rejected for being premature, time-barred, duplicate
Apart from the complaints rejected under the 2012 Rules, another 2,577 were rejected under RTI Rule 9 as they fell in the category of either being premature, time-barred, multiple RTI applications, or duplicate cases.
In March 2018, the data revealed that, as against a total of 1,903 cases registered, a larger number – 2,277 cases – were rejected.
Batra said such a large rejection of complaints or appeals by the CIC did not send the right message. He said “A new category outside the purview of RTI Act and RTI Rules, 2012, was introduced to return cases.”
The activist said “ The CIC must realise they [are] accountable to the citizens of India and not the government.”
Duty of CIC, state panels to receive complaints
Incidentally, Section 18 of the RTI Act, 2005, also lays downs that it is the duty of the central information commission or state information commission, as the case may be, to receive and inquire into a complaint from any person under certain conditions.
It stipulates that the panels would receive such complaints from those who are unable to submit a request to a CPIO or state PIO if no officer has been appointed under the Act, or if they have refused to accept the application.
The CIC is also required to accept applications from people who have been refused access to any information requested under this Act; who had not been given a response to a request for information; or who have been asked to pay an amount of fee considered “unreasonable” by them. Likewise, it is required to accept an appeal from a person who believes that he or she has been given incomplete, misleading or false information under the Act.