Taking serious note of an “unrealistic” number of RTI applications received by at least nine departments of the state government, the Gujarat Information Commission (GIC) in its latest annual report pointed out instances of “under-reporting” happening in these departments that largely deal with the welfare of citizens.
The GIC also penalised public information officers in 68 cases (appeals and complaints) for violating the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The total amount of penalty in 68 cases, wherein order has been passed for taking penal action, is Rs 5.95 lakh.
“During the year 2015-16 public authorities working under various departments of the government have received 1,52,097 lakh applications from the citizens requesting for information under the Right to Information Act. Out of these, 5,599 applications were received by the department directly, an the remaining 1,46,498 applications were received by the public authorities working under them,” stated GIC’s annual report for 2015-16 that was tabled on the concluding day of the Budget session of the Gujarat Assembly on March 31.
During 2014-15, the GIC had received 1,61,405 RTI applications. Among the applications received in 2015-16, the Urban Development and Housing, the Revenue and the Home departments accounted for 67 per cent of them. “We have merely drawn the attention of the government… We want to ensure that there is correct reporting,” V S Gadhavi, State Chief Information Commissioner, told The Indian Express regarding the observations made in the annual report. Talking about the drop in number of applications, he said without elaborating on the reasons, “Normally, it should increase.”
“Upon analysis of information of the public authorities and departments for the purpose of incorporating the same in the present report by the Commission, it appears that the number of applications received by some of the departments and public authorities under their control appears unrealistic,” stated the GIC in its annual report. It also listed out the nine departments that showed this trend. These were Agriculture and Cooperation Department, Education Department, Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, Health and Family Welfare Department, Narmada Water Resources Water Supply and Kalpsar Department, Panchayat Rural Housing and Rural Development Department, Social Justice and Empowerment Department, Tribal Development Department, Road and Building Department.
“It is the observation of the Commission that when public authorities, doing the work which touches the daily life of people, show less number of applications received by them, naturally a question is raised with regard to veracity of the figures,” stated the GIC, which felt that 1,399 applications received by Rural
Department is “certainly a suspicious figure” when there are more than 18,000 villages under the department. Similarly, when there are more than 43,900 primary schools and more than 16,000 secondary and higher secondary schools in the whole state, the total number of applications received by all public authorities under Education Department is only 3,952, which is also “suspicious”, it added.
“From these details, it clearly appears that there is under reporting by these departments and the Commission has taken a serious note of it and therefore, the Commission calls upon these departments to take all necessary steps with utmost seriousness to remove these defect and error immediately,” the report added. Among the 1.52 lakh RTI applications received, the rate of rejections was 3.1 per cent.
Most of the applications have been rejected under Section 24 (Information relating to intelligence and security organisations), Section 8(1)(e) (which is information relating to personal life of persons which has no connection with public interest or public activity), Section 9 (Information relating to breach of copyright) and Section 11 (Third Party Information which is protected by law for which the concerned party has not given consent for its disclosure).