Addressing the RTI annual convention, Home Minister Amit Shah mentioned that it is the reduction in the number of RTI applications and not the increase that shows the real success of RTI. Here is a fact-check.
Union Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah presided over the inaugural session of 14th Annual Convention of Central Information Commission as chief guest. The Central Information Commission (CIC) is the highest appeal body under the RTI Act. The session was held on 12 October 2019 at New Delhi.
While addressing the gathering during the event, Amit Shah said that in 14 years of enactment of Right to Information (RTI) Act, the purpose and objective of the Act had been fulfilled. He also stated that transparency and accountability were the twin pillars of good governance and hailed RTI as a milestone for good governance.
Amit Shah, during his speech, claimed that India is the first nation to have successfully created an accountability system till the last leg of governance. ‘India has nearly 5 lakh information officers working to fulfil the writ of RTI at different levels of government, and such a large number of officers working for the cause of transparency and accountability is unseen elsewhere in the world’, claimed Amit Shah as per a press release by Press Information Bureau. He further claimed that under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, the government was committed to create a system in which there is enough suo moto declaration of information that the need to file RTI applications is reduced. Shah said that the it is the reduction in RTI applications and not the increase in RTI applications that shows the success of a transparent government even though the RTI process is completely accessible to people.
In this story, we fact check the Home Minister’s claims made earlier this month. We look at the two broad claims made, one if there are 5 lakh information officers and two whether or not the number of RTI applications has come down under the Modi government.
What is the number of Public Information Officers?
Claim: India has 5 lakh information officers at different levels till the last leg of governance and no other country has such a large number of RTI officers.
Fact: At the central government level, there are more than 23000 public information officers. In some of the bigger states, there are more than 50000 public information officers each at the state level. So overall, there would easily be more than 5 lakh information officers at various levels of governance involved in implementation of the RTI. Thus, the claim is True.
CIC annual reports contains details regarding the number of information officers currently working in the various central government public authorities. As per the latest 2017-18 annual report, there are more than 23000 public information officers at the central level. In some of the bigger states, there are more than 50000 public information officers each at the state level. So overall, there would easily be more than 5 lakh information officers at various levels of governance involved in implementation of the RTI. Hence this claim is true.
What about the number of RTI applications filed every year?
Claim: Modi government is committed to create a system where there is suo moto declaration of information so that need to file RTI applications is reduced.
Fact: Between 2014-2018, the number of RTI applications filed has gone up. There is no evidence to suggest that the number of RTI applications has reduced in the last 4 four years. Since we do not know about the number of applications in the future, the claim remains UNVERIFIED.
It is evident from the data provided in the annual report of CIC that the number of RTI requests have been increasing. From a mere 24,436 in 2005-06 when RTI Act was first passed in the parliament to 12 Lakh applications in 2017-18, the number of requests has increased. It has to be noted that the numbers mentioned in the annual report of the CIC pertain only to the public authorities under the central government. Millions of other applications under RTI are filed at the state and local levels.
The first term of the NDA government was from 2014 to 2019. Data from 2014-15 to 2017-18 suggests that the number of RTI requests has increased by 63%. The number of RTI applications filed was less than the preceding year only in 2016-17 during this period. Increase in the number of public authorities available on the ‘RTI Online’ portal could have also contributed to the increased number of RTI applications.
In addition to this, requests pending from the previous years are carried forward to the current year. Under the government, from 2014-15 to 2016-17, every year around 22% of the requests are carried forward. In 2015-16, 25% of cases from 2014-15 were brought forward. Similarly, 22% of requests from 2015-16 were taken to 2016-17. In 2016-17, 23.5% of requests were pending and so were carried forward to 2017-18. Under the UPA government, on an average, every year, only 16% of requests were left pending for the subsequent year between 2009-10 and 2013-14.
Thus, we can see that in the first term of Modi government, there has not been any decrease in the number of RTI applications indicating greater suo moto dissemination of information by the government which reduced the need for filing applications. Moreover, there have been complaints about the undue delay in the release of various reports such as the NCRB reports. Hence it cannot be said that there is a greater suo moto dissemination of information today leading to a reduction in the number of RTI applications.