RTI Information Flow Continues to Suffer Due to Vacancies, Tardy Rate of Disposal: Report

The report notes how some Information Commissions return over 40% of cases without orders. Minuscule penalties are imposed on officers not providing replies.

New Delhi: The latest report by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) on the performance of the 29 Information Commissions set up under the Right to Information Act across the country has revealed a poor state of functioning of most commissions.

The report has noted that while the State Information Commissions of Tripura and Jharkhand have been lying defunct, may others are functioning with significantly fewer than the sanctioned strength of commissioners.

Pendency of cases reaches 3.14 lakh due to tardy rate of disposal, vacancies in Commissions

The report has also pointed out that while the shortage of commissioners has added to the pendency of appeals and complaints that topped the 3.14 lakh mark in June 2022, the tendency of some of the commissions to return nearly 40% of the complaints without any orders, and the tardy pace at which many of the commissioners have been functioning has also been harming the RTI movement.

Writing the report, Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri said a total of 145 RTI applications were filed with the State Information Commissions (SIC) and the Central Information Commission (CIC) and there were 10 main queries that were posed to the panels. The replies received till October 12, 2022, were incorporated in the report that covers the functioning of the panels from July 2021 till June 2022.

“The report,” the SNS said, “is part of an effort to undertake ongoing monitoring of the performance of information commissions across the country with the objective of improving the functioning of commissions and strengthening the RTI regime.”

Also read: Cases Pending Before Information Commissions Mount as Posts Remain Vacant

It added that the need to scrutinise the functioning of information commissions had grown in view of amendments made to the law in 2019 and due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most Commissioners are retired bureaucrats, only 10% women

On the key findings, the Sangathan said “there is lack of diversity in the composition of information commissions” as nearly 60% commissioners were retired government officials and only 10% of them were women. Also, it said, there was no commission that was headed by a woman at present.

It was also revealed that the Commissions were returning a large number of cases without passing any orders. “The CIC, UP SIC and Andhra Pradesh SIC returned around 40% of the appeals/complaints received by them,” it added.

Less than one case a day being disposed by some Commissioners

On the amount of work being put in by the Commissioners too, the report commented on a “tardy disposal rate”.

It said “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 fewer than one case a day – even though more than 10,000 cases were pending.”

The report said that out of the Commissions, it was only the Central Information Commission that has set a norm on the number of appeals and complaints to be disposed of by each commissioner in a year.

Earlier in October this year, the SNS had also released a ‘report card’ on the performance of the 29 Commissions  in which it had stated among other things that the number of pending cases have gone up by 59,000 in the past year.

The report had stated that “large backlog of appeals and complaints in many commissions across the country have resulted in inordinate delays in disposal of cases, which render the law ineffective.”

Two Commissions remained defunct, four functioned without a chief

This ‘Report Card’ had revealed that while two of the information commissions – Jharkhand and Tripura – still remained completely defunct during the year, as no new commissioners have been appointed upon the incumbents demitting office, Meghalaya had moved out of the list over the past year.

The report had added that another four commissions are functioning without a chief information commissioner. These were the SICs of Manipur, Telangana, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

Also read: Over 26,500 RTI Appeals Pending with Information Commission: Centre

The report had also noted that several information commissions have been functioning at reduced capacity. “The non-appointment of commissioners in the ICs in a timely manner leads to a large build-up of pending appeals and complaints,” it said.

Overall, the report had pointed out how the backlog of appeals/complaints has been steadily increasing in the commissions – growing from 255,602 appeals pending before 26 information commissions last year, to 314,323 appeals pending as on June 30 this year. This marked a rise of nearly a lakh more pending cases in a year.

Reluctance to impose penalties on erring PIOs remains

The report had also lamented that that the Commissions still remained reluctant in imposing penalties on officers where they could be imposed. “The RTI Act empowers the ICs to impose penalties of up to Rs 25,000 on erring PIOs for violations of the RTI Act. The penalty clause is one of the key provisions in terms of giving the law its teeth and acting as a deterrent for PIOs against violating the law,” it said, adding that “the assessment found that ICs imposed penalty in an extremely small fraction of the cases in which penalty was imposable”.

This year, the report stated, the analysis of penalties imposed by Information Commissions shows that the commissions did not impose penalties in 95% of the cases where penalties were potentially imposable. Last year too, the percentage of penalties imposed was exactly the same and this shows that neither the CIC nor the SICs have acted on the matter.