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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

RTI report card: One year of transparency at work

(Times of India, pg10, Jan 4, 2007Manoj Mitta | TNN) New Delhi: If information is power, nothing can perhaps empower you more than the sensitive economic information held by various public authorities under the finance ministry.
Not surprisingly, the finance ministry receives the most number of requests under the Right to Information Act.
But then, since you cannot use RTI to access information on matters pending before the Cabinet or under investigation, nor even on matters pertaining to commercial confidence or personal details, public authorities have ample scope to reject your applications.
Therefore, the finance ministry, again, has the dubious distinction of rejecting the most number of RTI requests.
The good news is, despite such limits on the information that can be sought, there are 17 central government authorities that received at least 50 RTI requests and, yet, did not reject a single request — at least in the first financial year of the new law.
TOI has obtained three tables figuring in the first ever annual report that the Central Information Commission, an independent regulator, is due to submit to the government, within a week, on the working of RTI .
Since RTI came into force in October 2005, the report compiled on the basis of inputs received from Central government authorities across the country covers only five months, October 2005 to March 2006. Under section 25 of the RTI Act, the government in turn will table the report in Parliament. Ironically, the list of 17 model authorities that did not reject a single RTI request during that period, despite getting at least 50 requests, is led by Delhi Development Authority, which was subsequently embroiled in the politico-legal controversy over the sealing drive in the Capital.
That was a no mean feat considering that DDA is said to have provided information without fail on as many as 1,988 requests. The next four public authorities in that list are Hindustan Shipyard (1,203 requests), ministry of social justice and empowerment (152), department of tourism (120) and National Highways Authority of India (118).
In another list, the CICs report reveals that the finance ministry received one fifth of the total number of requests made in the first five months of RTI . And, out of the 4,770 requests received by the finance ministry, 24.9% pertain to the Central Board of Excise and Customs and 17.7% to the Central Board of Direct Taxes.
Finance ministry, which received 19.5% of the total number of requests, is ahead of the next two, railways and urban development, by a wide margin. While the railways ministry got 10.9% of the requests, the urban development ministry got 10.2%.
The downside is that the finance ministry rejected 36.65% of the requests received by it. It leads even the list relating to rejected requests by a wide margin.
The home ministry, the next in the list, rejected 28.65% of the requests.

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