Survey shows West Bengal and Kerala worst in providing information to the public

Research by two NGOs has brought to highlight many gaping holes in the functioning of India’s Information Commissions (ICs). As per the revelations made by the “Report Card on Performance of Information Commissions in India” by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and Centre for Equity Studies (CES), there are 1,99,186 pending applications in the 23 Information Commissions from whom data was sought.

The Information Commissions were established after the landmark 2005 RTI Act and the two NGOs sought information from the ICs themselves by filing RTI applications. A total of 169 RTI applications were filed with the Central Information Commission (CIC) and individual State Information Commissions (SICs). The information obtained showed some concerning statistics.

The assessment showed that as of December 2016, a total of 1,81,852 applications were pending. The total number had surged to a whopping 1,99,186 by the end of October 2017. UP the most populous state had 41,561 cases pending followed by Maharashtra at 41,178.

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The SNS and CES then used the data for monthly disposal rate of the state ICs and number of pending applications to calculate the average time it would take for an application filed on November 1, 2017, to be disposed of by each state ICs. The results painted a grim picture.

The analysis showed that In West Bengal, it would take 43 years for an applicant to see his application disposed of and queries answered. While for Kerala the time was 6.5 years. Odisha followed next with more than 5 years average time period.

The data also revealed that several states have a vacant post of Information Commissioner for prolonged periods and in many cases, the SICs remains non-functional for months together. Reduced capacity was found to be prevalent among almost all the ICs. It also states that after the Chief Information Commissioners retire, the post remains vacant for months. The state of Andhra Pradesh which had a common SIC with the separated Telangana till May 2017, saw the IC become defunct after the chief retired and though the state government issued order to constitute a new SIC in Aug 2017, no commissioner has been appointed so far. Currently Maharashtra, Nagaland and Gujrat are without a Cheif Information Commissioner. In Kerala, a lone commissioner is in charge of handling the 14,000 currently pending applications.

According to the RTI Act, the SICs can impose a penalty on the Public Information Officers up to Rs 25000 for violations of duties. The data analysis has shown that though a total penalty of Rs 4.4 crores by 22 ICs during the period of review, the recovery is at a meagre 49.73 lakhs. The state ICs of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu & Uttar Pradesh did not provide information on penalties imposed and recovered.

Another concerning fact was that while the RTI act was all about transparency and availability of information to the public, 18 of the 19 ICs did not publish their annual report for 2016 on their websites. In fact, the Punjab SIC has not published an annual report after 2012, while Jharkhand, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have not published annual reports since 2013.

In terms of the number of cases disposed of, the CIC remained at the top with 54,219 applications disposed of and UP followed at second place with 42,911.

While the communists and opposition, in general, blame the BJP for being opaque and denying the public their right to know, from this survey it appears that the public’s right to know is thwarted maximum in the two states that have a dense communist presence, West Bengal and Kerala. A whopping 43 years wait in West Bengal while 6 years 6 months in Kerala. Who is the fascist now?

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