RTI Applications: How burdened is the Government? 

The Central Board of Secondary Education & Anr. vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay and Ors. judgement in 2011, immortalised the common refrain that has been seemingly ringing through the ears of RTI Activists, “The threat of penalties under the RTI Act and the pressure of the authorities under the RTI Act should not lead to employees of public authorities prioritising ‘information furnishing’, at the cost of their normal and regular duties.” However, a data analysis by the Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) on 12 May 2020, fifteen years after the passing of the Right to Information Act, 2005 furnished that the situation is not so. The Central Information Commission’s (CIC) Annual Reports that details the state of RTI mechanism in India formed the basis of the analysis. The study aimed to “investigate the urban myth – ‘RTI is an undue burden on an already overworked bureaucracy''’”.  The workload from the years 2012-2013 to 2018-19 became the subject of this evaluation.

The findings of the analysis can be compressed into the following points:

  1. Increase of RTI Applications: There has been an 83% increase in RTI applications from 2012-13 to 2018-19. In the same period, the number of Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) has also increased by approximately 13%. However, the number of Public Authorities reporting their statistics in this regard have decreased since 2012-13. 

  2. The average number of RTIs received by each Central Public Information Officer (CPIO): In 2012-13, each CPIO had to encounter less than 42 RTI Applications, on an average, in a single year. This showed an increase in 2018-19 when the number became 68. Monthly, this can be ascertained as to be less than 6 requests for each CPIO.

  3. Increase of Backlogs: Since 2012-13, the CIC has yet to experience a decrease in the volume of backlogs. This has been rolling on onto the current years and thereby only contributing to the increase of workload. This is especially concerning as vacancies to handle such a workload remain unfilled and the number of CPIOs available are unable to meet the demands.

  4. The workload in Ministries: The Finance Ministry, with a count of 2.22 lakh RTI requests in the years 2018-19, including fresh receipts and backlogs, is the largest recipient of RTIs. It also hosts around 7100 CPIOs and as such, the annual average for each of such CPIOs comes to be just around 31. Similarly, on average, the number of enquiries to be acknowledged by a CPIO in any of the Ministries comes to be approximately 9.5 RTIs in a month.

  5. Where RTIs are a burden: The departments which comprise of just a single CPIO like the Prime Minister’s Office, President’s Secretariat, the Supreme Court of India and who have respectively received 1,151 RTIs, 285 RTIs, and 315 RTIs per month approximately (including the backlogs) are overburdened. The Delhi High Court and Delhi Police are similarly overburdened. It is reported that while the PMO office disposed of 10% of the 2,000 first appeals received in 2018-19, the President’s Secretariat failed to dispose of any of the 611 appeals of the year.

Want to get your hands on the datasets. Click on this link: Right to Information Act: A Study into the workload of CIOs