RTI penalties for delay in information are rarely imposed

RTI penalties for delay in information are rarely imposed

Even five years after the enactment of the pioneering Right to Information Act (RTI), penalties for delays in providing what has been sought under the law are imposed in less than 4% of the cases, an independent audit shows.

The Act, which empowers citizens to demand information from the government, provides for the imposition of penalties by the Central or State Information Commission in case of delays without reasonable cause.

The founder of PCRF, Arvind Kejriwal, talks about the methodology of his study and the future of the Right to Information Act (Click Here)

The landmark legislation was passed during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s first term as part of its efforts to make officialdom more accountable.

The study for the year 2009-10 conducted by the Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF), a Delhi-based organization that works in the area of transparent, accountable and participatory governance, states that penalties for delays in providing information were imposed in 3.17% of cases and estimates a “loss" of Rs86 crore due to that. The study further estimates that this figure is almost twice the budget of all information commissions across the country.

“The penalty is mandatorily supposed to be imposed under the Act, unless the delay is due to reasonable causes. In our study, we have put aside those cases where penalties were imposed and those orders which clearly explain why penalties have not been imposed," said Arvind Kejriwal, RTI activist and founder of PCRF.

The study is based on an analysis of 76,813 orders passed by 87 information commissioners across 27 states. Uttar Pradesh and four commissioners of Jharkhand have not been analysed because of lack of information.

However, calling it a “presumptive study", chief information commissioner Satyanand Mishra said, “I do not agree that there has been any loss because any loss has to be actually computed against a fixed target which nobody can say. The power to impose penalties are with commissioners. You can criticize them on individual orders but you cannot come to a conclusion that there is a loss."

“Whether there should be a penalty or not is decided by a commissioner in exercise of his/her legal powers vested in him/her," Mishra added. Of the 76,813 cases analysed by the study, a delay in providing information was found in 59,631 cases. Among them, penalties were imposed in 1896 cases, which amounts to 3.17%. This figure, however, is an improvement against 2.4% from last year.

“We have accounted for non-imposition of penalties only on account of delays. The Act provides seven more grounds for imposing fines and if we take all grounds into account, the figure would be much higher," Kejriwal said, adding the PCRF would make a formal complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) to conduct special audits of all information commissions on the issue of penalties. Experts, meanwhile, believe the finding reflects a larger issue and shows the need for reforming the entire system of appointing information commissioners in India.

“Penalty imposition is supposed to be a deterrent which will prevent public authorities from not giving information. However, the problem is that most of our information commissioners are former bureaucrats who take a more lenient view of information being denied," said Jagdeep Chhokar, founder member of Association of Democratic Reforms, a Delhi-based non-governmental organization.

“What we need is a reform in the process of appointing information commissioners because if we have commissioners of appropriate mindset, then they would have a better judgement on when penalties should be levied," Chhokar said, adding that the figure of “loss" estimated by the study, however, seemed presumptive.

Looking at a state-wise break-up, the maximum percentage of penalties has been imposed by information commissioners in Manipur, followed by Arunachal Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh falls at the bottom of the ladder. The study has also found that information sought under the Act was denied in 17% cases nationally, an improvement from last year’s figure of 32% cases. States such as Assam and Manipur had the least instances of information being denied. This is the second study conducted by PCRF. Its first analysis for 2008-09 had showed that the legislation had achieved a success rate of about one in four.