Tamil Nadu information commission provides least info for study on RTI filings

Tamil Nadu provided only 14% of the information sought for a study on its performance in disposing of RTI requests, out of 29 information commissions across the country.
Representative image of RTI
Representative image of RTI

A study conducted by Delhi-based citizens group Satark Nagrik Sangathan has found that the Tamil Nadu State Information Commission had the worst performance among all the states, by furnishing only 14% of the information sought for the study under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The study was based on the commission’s performance during an entire year, from June 2021 to July 2022. Tamil Nadu refused to divulge information regarding the number of RTI requests it had received during the year and the number of pending requests.

The study was undertaken by filing 145 RTI applications in 29 Information Commissions (ICs) across the country – 28 State Information Commissions (SICs) and one Central Information Commission (CIC). The information sought through these RTIs included the number of appeals or complaints registered, disposed of and returned by each commission, penalties imposed, compensation awarded, and the latest year for which the annual report has been published, among others. The information sought was for the period between June 2021 to July 2022.

Another aspect that the study looked at was the number of information commissioners each IC was functioning with. As per the RTI Act, each SIC has up to ten information commissioners along with one state Chief Information Commissioner. As of October 2022, four commissions were functioning without a Chief Information Commissioner, namely Manipur, Telangana, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh, the study found. However, on October 21, the Andhra Pradesh government issued an order appointing R Mahaboob Basha as the state’s Chief Information Commissioner.

After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and the creation of Telangana in 2014, the SIC for the newly formed state was created in 2017. The previous Chief Information Commissioner of Telangana Raja Sadaram demitted office in August 2020 and since then, an existing information commissioner was functioning as the CIC till his retirement in August 2022. Since then, the SIC has been functioning without a Chief Information Commissioner.

In terms of the number of information commissioners in an SIC, Bihar has the lowest number with only three, followed by West Bengal with four, and Maharashtra with five. Among the southern states, Karnataka was functioning with seven commissioners till April 2022, following which three more were appointed.

Between July 30, 2021 and June 30, 2022, Karnataka had received 26,694 RTI requests and had disposed of 25,710. Telangana received 7,169 applications and had disposed of 9,267 while Andhra Pradesh received 6,044 applications while disposing of 8,055. Kerala had received 2,929 RTI requests and disposed of 5,110. Tamil Nadu did not disclose how many RTIs it had received during this period but had disposed of 17,311 applications.

The study mentioned that the Tamil Nadu SIC did not provide information regarding the number of appeals and complaints it had dealt with, by stating that the information could be provided only “after getting the approval of state Legislative Assembly”, though no such provision exists in the RTI Act.

The study also took note of the pending RTIs that were not disposed of in each state. Maharashtra had the highest backlog as of August 2022 with 99,722 pending RTI requests followed by Uttar Pradesh (44,482). Karnataka had the third-highest number of pending RTI applications at 30,358. Meanwhile, Telangana had 8,902 pending applications, Kerala had 6,360 and Andhra Pradesh had 2,814. Tamil Nadu refused to share information regarding the pending RTI requests in the state.

Analysing the monthly RTI disposal rate of the SICs and the pending backlog of requests, the study estimated the time it would take for each commission to dispose of a request filed on July 1, 2022. West Bengal had the highest time for disposal – 24 years and three months, followed by Odisha (five years and four months) and Maharashtra (five years and three months). For an RTI filed in Kerala on the aforementioned date, it would take a year and three months, while it would take a year and two months in Kerala. While Telangana would take a year to dispose of an RTI request, it would take only four months for Andhra Pradesh to dispose of the same. The estimated time could not be calculated for Tamil Nadu because the data required for the computation was not disclosed by the state.

As mentioned earlier, 145 RTI requests were filed by the organisation to “assess how each information commission performed as a public authority, in terms of maintaining and disclosing information.” However, only 10 ICs provided complete information in response to the RTI applications that were filed. Apart from Tamil Nadu, the SIC of Chhattisgarh denied information on several points stating that under the prevailing state rules, in a single application, information on only one topic could be sought.

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