On Thursday, the NDA government officially notified the recent amendments made to the RTI Act 2005. The new amendments now bring all central and state Information Commissions and their commissioners under the ambit of the central government. The RTI Act has been in place for 14 years in India; while RTI activists say these amendments would dilute the powers of the Information Commissions (ICs), the centre is of the view that the new amendments would help streamline their functioning.
In this report, we look at where the State Information Commissions (SICs) of the five south Indian states stand in their functioning.
The findings are based on RTIs filed by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and Centre for Equity Studies (CES) to all SICs across India. The report finds that while most SICs doesn't have their sanctioned strength of 11 ICs, most of the appointments are also men.
In Kerala, the State Information Commission (SIC) began functioning effectively only from 2018.
At present, there are five ICs, with one Chief IC in the state.It's is the onlySouth Indian state with a woman IC.
These ICs were appointed only after a PIL was filed with the Supreme Court in 2018. The previous appointment of ICs was set aside by the courts due to the lack of transparency as those appointed did not meet eligibility criteria under the RTI Act.
As of March 31, 2018, there were as many as 14,990 backlogs and appeals with the SIC, a year later, the pendency is at 12,638 cases.
The report found that in Kerala, the SIC has a FACTS (File, Appeal, Complaint Tracking System) feature on their website wherein orders could be searched by using the names of the commissioners. However, all attempts to retrieve decisions using this option were met with error messages, stated the report.
The annual reports for 2015-16 are not available with the website either.
The post of Tamil Nadu's Chief IC has remained vacant since May 2019. The SIC at present has six ICs, with no women.
Since January 1, 2018, up until March 31, 2019, there were a total of 13,141 cases registered and 7,845 have gotten disposed.
In Tamil Nadu, while there has been 6,395 backlogs and appeals as of on March 31, 2018, this has risen to 8,756 in a year.
The TN SIC has over the year awarded compensation worth Rs 1,41,540 to RTI applicants in 17 cases.
The SIC of Karnataka had five vacancies at the beginning of 2018, even though it registered the highest number of appeals and complaints across the country. The commission was also without a Chief IC between September 2018 and May 2019, finds the report.
The state recorded the highest number of cases (48,656) among all Indian states but has managed to dispose of only 23,223 cases. The SIC of Maharashtra stands second, recording 46,712 cases followed by Uttar Pradesh with 45,206. The Karnataka SIC did not divulge details on the number of backlogs and appeals, says the report.
The report also found that in terms of quantum of penalty imposed, Karnataka led by imposing Rs 77 lakh as penalties in 826 cases in the last one year. The state has awarded compensation in two cases, a total amount of just Rs 3,000.
While there are 10 ICs with the Karnataka SIC, there are no women in the commission.
After the bifurcation of the state of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, the SIC of Telangana was constituted in 2017. Two ICs assumed charge on September 25, 2017, both are men.
The two ICs have an uphill task of clearing 9,000 pending appeals/complaints, recorded as of March 31, 2019.
The SIC has registered 8,781 cases and disposed of 6,900 cases between January 1, 2018, and March 21, 2019
The state has levied penalties in 13 cases amounting to Rs 39,000; the commission has awarded compensation of Rs 10,000 only in one case.
No annual reports have been uploaded online since the formation of the SIC in 2017.
Post bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the SIC in the became defunct in May 2017. Up until then, the AP SIC was functioning out of the Telangana SIC.
For 17 months the state would not have a SIC, the present SIC with three members were formed only in October 2018 after SC intervention. Another IC was appointed in May 2019.
The SIC still does not have a Chief IC, though one of the ICs has been appointed as the acting Chief despite no such provision existing in the RTC act or its recent amendments.
In Andhra Pradesh, a total of 5,000 cases were registered but due to the shortage of ICs, only 422 cases could be disposed of between January 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019.
Since its formation, the new SIC has recorded 4,578 of appeals and complaints as backlogs. The report estimates that the rate at which the cases are being disposed of in the state would mean that it would take 18 years (2037) for all the cases to be disposed of. That is if no new cases are added.