90% of PMO rejections failed to cite any exemption clause under the Act
The Centre has only rejected 4.3% of all Right to Information (RTI) requests in 2019-20, the lowest ever rate, according to the Central Information Commission’s annual report. However, almost 40% of these rejections did not include any valid reason, as they did not invoke one of the permissible exemption clauses in the RTI Act, according to an analysis of report data. This includes 90% of rejections by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Public authorities under the Central government received 13.7 lakh RTI requests in 2019-20, out of which 58,634 were rejected for various reasons. Rejection rates have fallen since the 13.9% rate in 2005-06, and have been steadily trending downwards since the 8.4% spike in 2014-15. In 2019-20, they hit their lowest level so far.
The CIC’s annual report covers more than 2,000 public authorities across the Central government as well as the union territories. An analysis of CIC macro-data from Central ministries by RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak shows that the Home Ministry had the highest rate of rejections, as it rejected 20% of all RTIs received. The Agriculture Ministry’s rejection rate doubled from 2% in 2018-19 to 4% in 2019-20. The Delhi Police and the Army also saw increases in rejection rates.
The RTI Act allows public authorities to reject RTI requests on a number of grounds, ranging from information which would endanger life and safety to that which involves irrelevant personal information, Cabinet papers, foreign governments, copyrights, or sovereignty, security and intelligence matters. Public authorities are expected to cite the relevant clause of the Act to invoke the exemption.
In 38.7% of rejections in 2019-20, however, public authorities failed to cite these permissible exemption clauses, and were classified under the ‘Others’ category in the CIC data. This is an increase from the 33% seen the previous year. The Finance Ministry alone rejected more than 10,000 cases (40% of its total RTI rejections) without providing a valid reason under the Act. More than 90% of rejections by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Delhi High Court, the Comptroller and Auditor General, as well as the Ministries of Railways, Road Transport, Food Processing and Panchayati Raj fell into the Others category, Mr. Nayak’s analysis found.
Of the permissible grounds for rejection, Section 8(1)(j) saw the highest use. It permits denial of access to personal information if disclosure has no relationship to any public activity or public interest or is likely to cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual concerned. One third of all permissible rejections invoked this clause.
Section 24 of the Act which exempts information related to security and intelligence organisations — except allegations of corruption and human rights violations — was also frequently used, with one in five permissible rejections coming under this category.
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