If you filed a Right to Information (RTI) appeal in the Odisha State Information Commission today, you would be unlikely to get a hearing before 2029, at the current rate of disposal of cases.
In fact, according to a report card on the functioning of Information Commissions, the estimated time taken for disposal of complaints is at least two years in six States, as well as at the Central Information Commission (CIC).
The report, released by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan and the Centre for Equity Studies on Monday, argues that the huge backlog of cases — 2.3 lakh nationally — is due to both shortage of Commissioners, as well as the fact that many Commissioners hear very few cases per day.
The Central and State Information Commissions are the highest appellate authorities under the RTI Act, 2005. Each of these transparency watchdogs can have 10 members plus a chief, but most are functioning with reduced capacity. In Odisha, for example, there are only four working Commissioners, despite a pendency level of almost 15,000 appeals and complaints. The Jharkhand Commission has not had a single member since May, and its pendency level and disposal rates are such that one would have to wait more than four years for a case to be heard.
In 2011, the CIC had set an annual norm for disposal of 3,200 cases by each Commissioner — about 12 cases per weekday. It failed to match up to that norm last year, with each of its own members only disposing of 2,582 cases each year. In Odisha, each Commissioner only disposed of four cases a day, amounting to an annual disposal rate of just 1,101, said the report.
About six in 10 Commissioners have been retired government officials. That skew is even more apparent in the CIC, where 84% were retired bureaucrats, a vast majority being IAS officers. In the current CIC, journalist Uday Mahurkar is the only member without a bureaucratic background. Only one in 10 Commissioners, at the Central and State level, have been women. Currently, none of the Commissions are headed by a woman.