Data | Unfilled vacancies, stagnant workforce delay RTI replies and appeals

The number of information commissioners and public information officers has to improve to handle the rise in RTI applications

October 16, 2022 11:28 am | Updated 11:32 am IST

Save RTI: Protests against changes to RTI Act at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, July 29, 2019.

Save RTI: Protests against changes to RTI Act at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, July 29, 2019. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Data show that the number of information officers and first appellate authorities in the Central government has remained stagnant in the last few years. In contrast, the new Right to Information (RTI) applications filed as well as pending applications are increasing every year. Worryingly, the Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions, the final recourse in matters concerning RTI, also face manpower shortages. As a result, appeals and complaints are piling up.

The RTI Act is implemented using a three-level structure. At the first level is the Central Assistant Public Information Officer/Central Public Information Officer (CAPIO/CPIO). Once an RTI query reaches the CAPIO/CPIO, they are expected to reply within 30 days. If the reply is not satisfactory or does not arrive on time, a first appeal can be made to the First Appellate Authority (FAA). If the FAA does not answer or if its answer is not satisfactory, the Central Information and State Information Commissions can be approached.

A report released in October by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan, titled ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India, 2021-22’, states that the number of appeals and complaints pending before the Central and State Information Commissions as of June 30, 2022, was 3,14,323. The figure is based on data gathered from 26 Information Commissions obtained through 145 RTI applications. Chart 1 plots the increase in the number of pending appeals and complaints from 2.18 lakh to 3.14 lakh in the last three years.

Hover over the charts to find the exact figures

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Chart 2 shows the State-wise backlogs in the 26 Information Commissions and the Central Information Commission as of June 30, 2022. Maharashtra leads the list with nearly 1 lakh appeals and complaints pending followed by Uttar Pradesh (44,482) and Karnataka (30,358). Data were not available for Tamil Nadu’s State Information Commission. The Commissions in Jharkhand and Tripura were defunct.

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Chart 3 shows the estimated time required for the disposal of an appeal/complaint by the Central and State Information Commissions. Using the backlog data and the monthly disposal rate, the Satark Nagrik Sangathan calculated the time it would take for an appeal/complaint filed on July 1, 2022, to be disposed of by the Central and State Information Commissions. The Sangathan assumed that appeals and complaints would be disposed of in chronological order. The chart shows that it would take the West Bengal State Information Commission 24 years and 3 months to dispose of a complaint filed on July 1, 2022. A similar analysis in Odisha and Maharashtra showed that it would take five years. Only Meghalaya and Mizoram showed no waiting time (not plotted on the tree map). Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Tripura could not be plotted for reasons mentioned above.

Chart 4 shows the opening balance of RTI requests at the beginning of every year and the number of new RTI requests filed in a year. This data pertains to the first level of the RTI process involving CAPIO/CPIO. As can be observed, both figures are rising at a rapid pace, while the new filings came down a bit during the pandemic year.

Chart 5 shows the number of CAPIOs, CPIOs and FAAs working for the Central government agencies. The number of CPIOs and FAAs has remained stagnant in recent years. While the number of CAPIOs surged earlier, that too has become stagnant in recent years.

So, while the number of new and pending RTIs is rising at a rapid pace, the number of officers required to answer them has remained stagnant. and

Source: Satark Nagrik Sangathan, titled ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India, 2021-22’, Central Information Commission annual reportss

Also read: Three lakh and counting: RTI pleas pile up at information commissions

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