People are seeking answers, even if it means asking the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) some tough questions. The number of Right to Information (RTI) applications filed with the office have increased a whopping 8,402 percent in five years, say officials.
The number of RTI queries with the PMO rose from 48 in 2005 – when the act came into force – to over 4,000 applications in 2010, say information officials in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office.
PMO has received a total of 13,216 applications since October 2005, with the proposed anti-corruption Lokpal Bill attracting the maximum queries lately. The act empowers every citizen to seek any information from the government, inspect any government document and seek certified photocopies of those that have come into force.
“Since the RTI Act was mplemented, the number of RTI queries to the PMO has risen tremendously. The PMO had received 4,081 queries last year till December alone, compared to 48 applications filed in 2005,” the PMO’s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) Sanjukta Ray told .
Despite being a three-member team, most of the RTI pleas have been dealt with.
“We are a small team with just three people but we managed to tackle thousands of RTI applications every year. As of now, we are piled with queries on the Lokpal Bill and applications based on news reports and current affairs,” she said.
According to the act, the public information officer (PIO) should respond within 30 days of the receipt of an application, failing which the applicant should make the first appeal to the appellate authority of the same department.
Ray said they do not have a large number of first appeals.
In 2006, the PMO received and cleared 743 RTI applications out of which 70 went for first appeal. In 2007, there were 1,621 RTI applications out of which 127 went for the first appeal, in 2008, 2,286 applications and 276 first appeals, in 2009, 2,766 applications and 435 first appeals, and in 2010, 4,081 applications and 510 first appeals.
Ray also noted that they get a good number of “non-valid” applications, which should be addressed to other officials.
“For example, a person from Chhattisgarh sent an RTI application on an issue related to the collector of a particular district and asked us to help him out to get the information,” she said.
About the method of working of her team which comprises her and two subordinates, Ray said they process the applications and try to seek information from the departments concerned.
“We take a list of applications which are to be answered in eight days and check out how much information has been received and if it’s not received, we try to get the information from the department sought by the applicant.”
Apart from the PMO, the department of personnel and training (DoPT) has processed 14,292 applications in the last five years, a finding of RTI applicant Lokesh Batra revealed.
“Compared to other public authorities, the DoPT takes a lot of time to respond. DoPT has 47 central public information officers (CPIO), while other ministries and departments have only one to look into the RTI applications,” Batra told.
Each CPIO has handled just 276 queries over a span of five years, Batra noted.
Whencontacted one of the CPIOs and asked the reason for delays in the processing of RTI applications, he declined to comment.
The external affairs ministry received 3,765 applications in the last five years. Out of these, the maximum number, 946, were filed in 2007.
The findings also showed that even though the external affairs ministry received a lesser number of applications compared to many other public authorities, there were 652 cases in which the applicants did not receive information or were not satisfied with the quality of information received and filed first appeals with the ministry.
“Although the MEA has a full time CPIO of joint secretary rank, it is still not efficient in giving out details,” Batra claimed.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has received 6,175 RTI applications from April 2006 to November 2010. The maximum number of applications (2,019) were filed