56 pc RTI pleas rejected due to disclosure of personal info, exemption to security agencies: CIC

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New Delhi, Mar 24 (PTI) Disclosure of personal information and exemption given to security and intelligence agencies became the basis for rejection of over 56 per cent of RTI applications in 2019-20 under the transparency law, the annual report of the Central Information Commission (CIC) showed. More than 13.74 lakh RTI applications were received in 2019-20 across 2,131 public authorities, an all-time high figure. This showed a nominal increase of 0.3 per cent from 2018-19, while the rate of rejection was at an all time low at 4.27 per cent.

The rejection of an RTI application is 'permissible' only under the exemptions given in Sections 8, 9, 11 and 24 of the act but the report shows a category of 'others' used by government departments to discard applications, Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, who presented his analysis of the report, on Wednesday said.

Nayak said a total of 62,123 applications were rejected by public authorities in 2019-20 out of which 38,064 were rejected citing RTI Act exemption clauses, while 24,059 were rejected on reasons clubbed as 'others'. 'According to Section 7(1) of the RTI Act, a public information officer may reject an RTI application only for reasons specified under Section 8 and 9. To this list of Sections 11 and 24 may also be added which also create valid grounds for refusing access to information under specific circumstances. No other reason or excuse is permissible for rejection under the RTI Act,' he said.

Nayak said public authorities used the 'dubious' category of 'others' to reject applications which the Central Information Commission includes in its Annual Report without questioning its validity. The commission itself in the 2011-12 report had called for 'closer scrutiny and inspection' of 'others' cited as rejection ground but not further action took place, he said. RTI applications were rejected citing Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act in 12,962 cases and Section 24 in 8,504 cases to reject applications, making them two major grounds for discarding information seeking pleas.

Nayak said Section 8(1)(j) related to personal information and partial immunity enjoyed by security agencies under Section 24. It was cited in over 56 per cent of the total 38,064 rejected RTI applications citing permissible grounds.

Section 24, which relates to partial immunity given to only 26 intelligence and security agencies from the RTI Act, was cited in one of every five RTI applications that were rejected. The section provides special immunity to the listed agencies but other government departments cited it to reject applications as well. 'The Ministry of Labour and Employment rejected 150 RTIs (40 per cent of the total number rejected by invoking permissible exemptions) under Section 24 of the act in 2019-20 despite not having any organisation under its jurisdiction. Yet this phenomenon does not merit any discussion in the annual report,' Nayak said.

The Ministries of Parliamentary Affairs and Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and the Election Commission of India did not report any rejections in 2019-20, he said. PTI ABS AAR AAR