Over 3.02 crore RTI applications filed in last 15 years

Over 3.02 crore RTI applications were filed with central and state governments since the inception of the transparency law 15 years ago with three south Indian states, including Karnataka, managing space in the top-five list.

The '2019: State Transparency Report – Journey So Far and Challenges Ahead' report by Transparency International India (TII), released on Friday the eve of 15th anniversary of implementation of the Right To Information Act 2005, also says 21.32 lakh appeals were filed with state and central information commissions since 2005 after the applicants did not get required information.

The analysis shows that the central government tops the list of receiving RTI queries at 78.93 lakh during the last 15 years followed by Maharashtra at 61.80 lakh.

The next three slots in the top-five are taken by south Indian states – Tamil Nadu (26.91 lakh), Karnataka (22.78 lakh) and Kerala (21.92 lakh).

However, one of the areas of concern is the apparent reluctance of Information Commissioners in imposing penalty on erring Public Information Officers (PIOs) who refuse information under one pretext or another. The Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions (SICs) can impose penalty of Rs 250 per day to maximum Rs 25,000 under Section 20(1) of RTI Act.

While RTI activists continue to complain about this aspect, only 15, 578 cases of imposition of penalty by SICs have been reported. The CIC has not given the number of cases in which it has imposed penalty but the report said penalties worth Rs 2.26 crore were imposed on them.

In the last three years, Uttarakhand SIC has imposed the highest amount of penalty at Rs 81.82 lakh followed by Rajasthan SIC at Rs 49.20 lakh.

Haryana has imposed penalty in 2,692 cases since 2006-07 while Rajasthan has 2,803 cases between 2008-09 to 2016-17. In 2017-18 and 2018-19 alone, Uttar Pradesh has invoked Section 20(1) in 1, 438 cases. Karnataka SIC has imposed penalty in at least 833 cases between 2006-07 and 2011-12.

"Like every other democracy of world, legislation, though, is only half the battle. Without full implementation, laws have little chance of success. Problem lies in doublespeak of promises and actions of the successive ruling combinations since 2005," TII Chairman S R Wadhwa wrote in the report.

He said parties claim support to transparency law but when in power, ruling combinations "neither did anything to make RTI Act more powerful nor are they doing something to ensure free flow of information so that citizens are not forced to run from pillar to post and wait for years for disposal of their RTI appeals, which ultimately defeats the very purpose of idea of transparency and access to information".

In Global Rating of RTI Acts based on legislation published by Centre for Law and Democracy, the report said the RTI Act started with being the second best in 2011 and dropped to the fourth position in 2016. Currently, India has further dropped down to the sixth position in 2018.

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