A recent study to assess the performance of Information Commissions (ICs) by non-government organisations Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and Centre for Equity Studies (CES) has found several shortcomings in their functioning, which impact the effectiveness of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The landmark 2005 legislation empowers citizens to hold the government to account for a vast range of public matters. The conclusions of the study are themselves based primarily on information accessed under the RTI Act from 29 ICs across the country. A total 169 RTI applications were filed with State Information Commissions (SICs) and the Central Information Commission (CIC). Some key findings of the ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India’, published earlier this month:
Several commissions were either not functioning or functioning at reduced capacity as posts of Commissioners, including those of Chief Information Commissioners, were vacant during the period under review. Post-bifurcation, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana had a common SIC, which became defunct in May 2017 after the retirement of the Chief and the lone Information Commissioner. Telangana constituted its SIC on September 13, 2017, and two Commissioners assumed charge on September 25, 2017. AP issued an order to constitute an SIC in August 2017, but no Commissioner has been appointed so far.
The West Bengal SIC currently has two Commissioners, but during the periods under review (November 2015 to July 2016 and April 2017 to July 2017), it heard no appeals or complaints as there was only one Commissioner.
In Sikkim, the SIC was non-functional between December 2017 and February 2018.
ICs without Chief
Three SICs are currently without a Chief Information Commissioner, says the report. In Maharashtra, the CIC retired in April 2017; the Nagaland SIC has been without a Chief since September 2017; in Gujarat, the CIC retired in January 2018.
Vacancies (as of Oct 2017)
There were four vacancies in the Central Information Commission. Four of the seven Commissioners, including the Chief, will retire in 2018. Kerala SIC was functioning with a single Commissioner. Nearly 14,000 appeals were pending at the time of the review. In Odisha, the SIC had three commissioners; over 10,000 appeals and complaints were pending.
Appeals filed, resolved
Between January 1, 2016, and October 31, 2017, a total 2,76,405 appeals were filed and 2,14,809 resolved at the 23 SICs. The largest number of appeals (83,054) were registered in UP, followed by the Central Information Commission (47,756) and Karnataka (32,403). The CIC disposed of the highest number of appeals (54,219), followed by UP (42,911) and Karnataka (28,648).
The SICs in AP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu did not provide information regarding appeals filed and disposed of. Relevant information was not available on the Commissions’ websites.
The CIC returned 27,558 complaints between January 2016 and October 2017. The Gujarat SIC returned 9,854 complaints during the same period.
As of December 31, 2016, a total 1,81,852 appeals were pending before 23 SICs. This number increased to 1,99,186 at the end of October 2017. The study reported a discrepancy between information available on the CIC website and that provided it directly. In response to an RTI application, the CIC said that as of December 31, 2016, a total 28,502 appeals were pending before it; according to the CIC website, however, only 364 cases were pending as of January 1, 2017.
The ICs can impose a penalty up toRs 25,000 on Public Information Officials (PIOs) for violation of the RTI Act. This is one of the key provisions that give ICs teeth. Between January 1, 2016, and October 31, 2017, the ICs imposed fines amounting to Rs 4.41 crore in 4,194 cases. However, penalties recovered for the same period were only Rs 49.73 lakh. Karnataka imposed the largest quantum of penalties (Rs 1.69 crore), followed by Haryana (Rs 95.97 lakh) and Uttarakhand (Rs 72 lakh). The CIC imposed penalties amounting to Rs 29.36 lakh. SICs in West Bengal and Mizoram did not impose any penalty.