The annual report of the State Information Commission (SIC) reveals that at least 95.66 per cent of RTI (Right to Information) users are supplied with the information they ask for. However, a closer scrutiny of the data also shows that in 2015, Public Information Officers (PIO) rejected the most number of RTI applications in the last five years. RTI users say the high rate of rejection, and the shuttling of applications between offices by PIOs, are among the major issues plaguing the RTI Act in Maharashtra.
In 2015, Maharashtra recorded the highest number of applications received under RTI — 8,38,778 — since the implementation of the RTI Act. In the year before that, the state had actually recorded a dip in the number of applications received since 2006.
The annual reports of the SIC show that over the years, there has been an increase in the number of RTI applications that were rejected at the PIO level. Section 8 of the RTI Act allows for the rejection of applications with a large number of riders. Only matters of national security and legal cases, among a few other issues, can be rejected. In case an application is rejected by the PIO, the applicant has the power to appeal against it.
In 2015, out of 8,38,778 applications, 31,067 were rejected — 3.7 per cent of the total received. In 2014 and 2013, respectively 2.25 per cent and 2.13 per cent of the applications were rejected. The average rate of rejection has been at least 2 to 2.25 per cent in the last five years. On paper, this might not be a very large number, but RTI activist Vivek Velankar said the methodology used for calculating the information is wrong.
“In case an applicant does not go for appeal, the authorities assume that the information supplied is sufficient. In reality, at least 20-25 per cent of the applicants either do not know about the appeal procedure or do not avail of it due to frustration,” said Velankar. He said the high number of rejection is just the “tip of the iceberg” in this case.