For all those political leaders, bureaucrats, judges and heads of public institutions who have been complaining since the inception of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005, that public information officers (PIOs) are overburdened with applications, a study reveals that PIOs of the Central government actually handle only two to six RTI applications per month!
In fact, 7,100 CPIOs are handling the 194 public authorities under the ministry of finance. In 2018-19, they together received 222,000 RTI applications and this amounts to only two RTI applications per CPIO per month. Interestingly, one of the overburdened CPIOs in the entire country is the one in the prime minister’s office (PMO) as he is the lone person working there.
Thus, he has handled 13,816 RTI applications in 2018-19, which works out to the monthly average of 1,151 RTIs.
These statistics are based on a study by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), released last week. The inputs were from the Central Information Commission (CIC)’s own annual reports from 2012-13 to 2018-19. CHRI has debunked the "urban myth of the undue burden of RTI on an already overworked bureaucracy." These CIC annual reports carry the work-load of CPIOs and FAAs of central public authorities, from which the analysis was done. As for individual ministries, the statistics of 2018-19 only has been taken into account.
According to the study, the total number of RTI applications has risen from 886,000 per year in 2012-13 to 1.63 million per year in 2018-19. (This includes the backlog of the previous year and the fresh ones in the current year). The number of CPIOs who handled these RTI applications have risen from 21,204 in 2012-13 to 24,048 in 2018-19 which is a little more than 13% increase.
States Venkatesh Nayak, RTI research scholar and programme head, CHRI, "On an average, a CPIO has handled less than 42 RTIs (41.82) in 2012-13. In 2018-19, this increased to almost 68 RTIs in a year (67.78). Thus, the monthly average number of RTIs per CPIO rose from less than four to less than six RTIs between 2012-13 and 2018-19. Does handling between four and six RTI applications per month amount to spending 75% of a CPIO's time? While examining the content of the RTI application will reveal the volume of the period for which information is requested, we have in the meantime begun with a study of numbers."
As for the RTI applications received in various Union ministries in 2018-19, the study reveals that the ministry of finance reported a total of 2.22 lakh RTIs in 2018-19 (backlog plus fresh receipts). Says Mr Nayak, "this figure includes not only the RTIs handled by various departments in this ministry but also, public sector banks, tax authorities and insurance companies, debt recovery tribunals among others - a total of 194 public authorities - all of which have a large clientele and therefore high numbers of RTIs are to be expected."
The study states that 7,100 CPIOs are handling this workload in the ministry of finance and so the annual average works out to a little more than 31 RTIs per CPIO (31.27) and a monthly average of just over two RTIs (2.61). When only fresh receipts are taken into account, the annual average per CPIO falls to less than 30 RTIs (29.73) and the monthly average hovers around two RTIs per CPIO (2.48). Asks Mr Nayak, "can handling an average of two RTIs per month be reasonably labelled as an enormous workload on a CPIO? Clearly, the averages are so low because of the large number of designated CPIOs in this ministry and its public authorities."
The study also showed that there are several public authorities that have designated only one CPIO on whom falls the entire year’s burden. For example, the lone CPIO in the prime minister’s office handled 13,816 RTIs in 2018-19 (backlog and fresh receipts), taking the monthly average to 151,000 RTIs. Fresh receipts amounted to an average of almost 1,012 per month.
The study concludes that:
• Where the workload is distributed across multiple PIOs, RTI does not appear to be a burden, at least statistically speaking.
• Where all responsibilities are concentrated in a very small number of PIOs or in just one PIO, the workload appears herculean.
• Another reason why many public authorities and their designated officers think RTI is a burden is because of the mindset that is slow to change. Study after study has demonstrated the inadequacy of implementation of the proactive disclosure provisions of the RTI Act despite the Supreme Court of India declaring this as a mandatory obligation in the CBSE case cited above.
• RTI has been reduced to a request driven process by the public authorities themselves who then complain about the increasing burden of information requests and complaints.
Study of the First appeals workload
• More than 9,300 FAAs designated across public authorities under the Central government had a total of 151,000 first appeals to deal with in 2018-19. This works out to an annual average of a little more than 16 appeals per FAA and a monthly average of less than two cases per FAA. Of these 151,000 cases, FAAs actually decided a little over 99,000 cases during this period. So the annual average fell further to less than 11 cases and the monthly average was barely one case per FAA. In fact ever since 2012-13 the monthly average number of cases received has always been less than two per FAA and actual disposal has been less than one case per month;
• More than 2,100 FAAs (2,156) designated by various public authorities under the chart topper—ministry of finance- had to deal with more than 25,000 first appeals in 2018-19. The annual average was under 12 first appeals and the monthly average was less than one appeal per FAA. These figures fell even more as the FAAs actually disposed barely 16,000 appeals (15,917) during this period, taking the annual average down to less than 8 per FAA (7.38) and the monthly average fell further to under one case (0.68);
• The burden seems enormous in the PMO, President’s secretariat and the Supreme Court which had only one FAA each to dispose of between 400 and 600 appeals in 2018-19. Naturally, the monthly average ranged from 34 tp 167 cases per FAA between them; and
• Strangely, actual disposals in the PMO, President’s secretariat and the Supreme Court ranged between 0-16 per month with the PMO reporting that its FAA disposed exactly 10% of the 2,000 first appeals received in 2018-19 (hence the monthly average of 16 cases). Interestingly, the President’s secretariat reported that it did not dispose of any of the 611 appeal cases during the entire year. The Supreme Court reported that its FAA disposed of only three of the 403 first appeals received in 2018-19.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”