DNA: New Delhi: Saturday, March 18, 2017.
While there has been a jump of 22.67 per cent over the previous year in the filing of RTI applications in 2015-16, there has also been a steep increase in the number of applications rejected by various ministries, which have used the mysterious pretext of citing 'others' as the reason.
Under the provisions of the RTI Act, a public authority can reject an application and refuse to provide information citing security and privacy reasons governed by the sections 8, 9, 11 and 24 of the Act. But most of the ministries who rejected the application cited none of these permissible clauses. Against 28,444 applications rejected under the 'others' category the previous year, in 2015-16, the number has increased to 36,913.
A whooping 43 per cent of the rejections were recorded under the 'others' category, while 47 per cent were rejected under the permissible clauses. Out of 11,138 received by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in 2015-16, it rejected 2,227 applications citing 'others' as the reason. The CIC has reported that there has been a decrease in the number of first appeals received, but an increase in the number disposed by the first appellate authorities.
Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), described the increase in applications to be a positive trend, but also raised concern at the increasing number of rejections without valid reasons mentioned under the RTI Act being cited. The CIC disposed of 28,188 appeal and complaint cases in 2015-16, while 25,960 cases were registered during the same period.
While the President's Secretariat received only 123 more RTIs in 2015-16 as compared to the previous year, the proportion of rejection plummeted from 9.30 per cent to 1.2 per cent in 2015-16. In 2015-16, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) reported a rejection rate of 20.1 per cent of the RTIs received. While this a significant drop from 22.10 per cent in 2014-15, only seven RTI applications were rejected by the PMO invoking section 8. A whopping 2,227 RTIs were rejected under the 'others' category.
The proportion of rejection of RTIs by the Supreme Court fell to 21.1 per cent in 2015-16, while it received only six more RTIs as compared to the previous year. The proportion of rejections by the Delhi High Court also registered a fall of more than 1 per cent in 2015-16, even tough the number of RTIs received went up by 127.
While the number of RTIs received by the Comptroller and Auditor General fell to 716 in 2015-16 from 796 the previous year, the proportion of rejections zoomed to 17.2 per cent from 6.3 per cent reported the previous year. This alarming increase requires an in-depth study.
The Cabinet Secretariat also witnessed a jump in the proportion of rejections from 4.3 per cent to 6.65 per cent in 2015-16, although it received only 73 more RTIs. The Ministry of Personnel and Training reported a significant decline in the proportion of rejections at 3.4 per cent in 2015-16 as compared to 9.4 per cent during the previous year, even though it reported receiving 9,000 more RTIs in 2015-16. This appears to be a positive trend.
Among key ministries, the proportion of rejections in the Ministry of Defence fell significantly to 11.5 per cent in 2015-16 as compared to 15.90 per cent the previous year. In the Ministry of Finance, the proportion of rejections fell to 18.3 per cent in 2015-16 as compared to the 20.2-per cent rejection rate the previous year.