More than 11 lakh Right to Information (RTI) applications were pending for disposal at the end of the year 2016-17, says the annual report of the Chief Information Commission (CIC) for 2016-2017.
The CIC is the apex appellate authority under the RTI Act 2005, and its jurisdiction extends over all Central Public Authorities.
The total number of pending RTI requests in 2016-17 was 11,29,457. This is only a marginal improvement over the pending requests in the year before (2015-16), when it was 11,65,217. Also, the pending requests for information disclosure have increased significantly since the time the BJP-led NDA government came to power in 2014: the number of RTI requests pending for disposal at the end of 2014-2015 was 8,45,032. This means that between 2014-15 and 2016-17, number of pending RTI queries has increased by 33%.
The number of new RTI requests during 2016-17 was 9,17,009, while the percentage of RTI applications rejected in the same year was 6.59%.
For more than half of the rejected RTI applications — 51% — a single section of the RTI Act 2005 was invoked: Section 8(1), on grounds of national security and sovereignty.
Section 8(1) provides for exemption of “such information from disclosure which affects, the sovereignty and integrity of the country as also its security and strategic, scientific or economic interest, commercial confidence, trade secrets, or intellectual property, or those which are expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law / tribunal or which may constitute contempt of court.”
The section also exempts information “causing breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature, or those available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, or those received from foreign Government, those disclosures which would endanger the life of physical safety of a person, or those which would impede the process of investigation and finally Cabinet papers including deliberations of Council of Ministers, Secretaries, Officers.”
All entities qualifying as Public Authorities (PAs) under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act are “expected” to be registered by the Ministries/Departments as PAs with the CIC, though it is possible that some entities may not have been registered, the report says. Whenever such a complaint is received, the CIC can give directions to register the entity in question as a PA, although the right for inclusion and deletion of the PAs vests with the controlling Ministries/Departments.
The CIC report says that the number of entities registered as PAs can change “for various reasons viz creation/identification/deletion of Public Authorities, directions of the Commission or superior Courts etc.”
A total of 2,092 PAs were registered with the CIC in 2016-17, a slight increase from the previous year (2015-16) when the number was 2023. While in 2014-15 the number was 2,030, it was a marked decline from 2013-14 when the number of registered PAs was 2,276.
For the Annual Report, the CIC invites online returns in a prescribed pro-forma from the Public Authorities. In 2016-17, 93.93% of PAs submitted returns, which is slightly lower than the compliance percentage (94.07%) in 2015-16.