Years of data goes missing from Union government’s RTI portal

Hundreds of RTI applications and their responses from Union public authorities have disappeared from the RTIOnline website; the site has processed 58.3 lakh applications since 2013

August 23, 2023 08:17 pm | Updated 09:18 pm IST - NEW DELHI

This disappearance of public information represents an additional step in the RTIOnline portal’s deteriorating performance over the last few months.

This disappearance of public information represents an additional step in the RTIOnline portal’s deteriorating performance over the last few months.

Right to Information activists on Wednesday noticed that the records of their previous applications have disappeared in the hundreds from the RTIOnline portal, which allows citizens to file for access to public information from the Union government. The Hindu viewed and verified samples of applications from two RTI activists, one of whom has had their entire account purged of information from before 2022. 

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which administers the portal and disseminates training and standards for how government officials must handle RTI applications, did not respond to a query from The Hindu on the missing data. 

Chandra Shekhar Gaur, an RTI activist from Madhya Pradesh, said that there was a mismatch of several hundreds in his account. Two accounts used by The Hindu are also missing several years worth of applications and their responses.

Heavy usage till 2022

The RTIOnline portal allows citizens to pay ₹10 through many digital payment options to file an RTI application, a facility that is far more convenient than the other typical method of mailing an application through post with a postal cheque, which must be purchased and stamped beforehand. The portal is maintained by the National Informatics Centre (NIC).

The scale of the deletion on the portal may be staggering. According to data obtained by The Hindu, the RTIOnline portal has processed over 58.3 lakh applications from 2013, when it was launched, to 2022. The number of applications filed has been growing steadily, with over 12.6 lakh applications filed in 2022.

This disappearance of public information represents an additional step in the RTIOnline portal’s deteriorating performance over the last few months. For at least two periods of multiple days, the portal has lagged in speed and performance, and applications were not filed with authorities until days after users made a payment. The site allows citizens to file applications with all Union Ministries, their Departments, subsidiary institutions, regulators, India’s foreign missions, and to governments of certain Union Territories. 

Discouraging account holders

Last year, the Union Government removed the facility of creating an account on the RTIOnline portal, with the DoPT citing a “heavy load” on the website. Existing account holders must file at least one application in a six-month period if they wish to retain their accounts.

Mr. Gaur, the activist from Madhya Pradesh, noted that the portal also lacked a ‘forgot password’ option, meaning that the few people who still have an account risk losing access completely if they misplace their login credentials. Having an account enables applicants’ personal details to be pre-filled, making the filing process more convenient. Without it, applicants now have to fill in their personal details each time they file an application.

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