India has now become, as Alasdair Roberts described it, a laboratory for studies of transparency. You can find out more about India’s development of RTI in Prashant Sharma’s great work here and his new book here.
Recently, RAAG/CES published a very comprehensive new report examining the impact of RTI in India 2011-2013 (following on from their previous one in 2008/2009). These studies are extremely important not only for their findings but their methodology and research approach, which includes a whole series of interviews, focus groups and requests. Below are a few of the many interesting findings-the full report is available here.
- Users in India were overwhelming male (over 90 %) and urban (Raag/NCPRI 2009, 8).
- Requesters are often professionals (61% coming from government or private sector) with only 3% from the unemployed.
- There may be a somewhat different picture in the countryside where ‘a significant proportion’ of RTI requests come from ‘historically marginalised and weak groups’ including those below the poverty line or of a low caste.
- However, rural requesters make up only 14 % of all requesters, despite representing 70% of India’s population (Raag/CES 2014, 61).
- Numerous studies expressed concern at low levels of awareness of the existence of the legislation (Roberts 2010: Raag/NCPRI 2009). This does not mean benefits do not reach other groups but may shape the aims and emphasis of requests, and leave the system reliant on certain activists to push rights.
- While 16 % of RTI requests are overtly aimed at expressing grievances many more are ‘disguised’ versions of the same thing (Raag/CES 2014, 2).
- This spreading ‘politicised use’ cover food provision, pollution and in some cases, life or death issues of access to resources.
- It is a ‘weapon of last resort’ for ‘failed governance’ (Raag/CEs 2014, 51-52).
Here’s some very brief comparisons with India and the UK (based on my own statistics and few guestimates):
Use of access to information legislation in India and the UK
|Estimated number of requests filed 2011-2012||2.3, 000,000||150,000|
|Estimated user groups||Public and NGOs/Sangathans (and business?)||Public, NGOs, media and business|
|‘Typical’ requester||Male, middle class, urban||Male, middle class, middle aged|
|High profile releases||Commonwealth Games scandal 2010||MPs’ Expenses scandal 2009|
|Focus of requests||Local and regional government||Local government (70-80%)|
(CHRI 2013a: Raag/NCPRI 2009: Hazell et al 2010: Worthy et al 2011)
Calland, Richard and Kristina Bentley (2013) ‘The Impact and Effectiveness of Transparency and Accountability Initiatives: Freedom of Information’ Development Policy Review, 2013, 31 (S1): s69-s87
CHRI (2013) The Use of Right to Information Laws in India: A Rapid Study Based on the Annual Reports of Information Commissions (2011‐12). Delhi: CHRI
Right to Information Assessment and Analysis Group and Centre for Equity Studies (Raag/CES) (2014) Peoples’ Monitoring of the RTI Regime in India 2011-13. New Delhi: NCPRI see here
Right to Information Assessment and Analysis Group and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (Raag/NCPRI) (2009) Safeguarding the Right to Information – Report of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008. New Delhi: NCPRI see here
Roberts, Alasdair. (2010). ‘A Great and Revolutionary Law? The First Four Years of India’s Right to Information Act’. Public Administration Review 70 (6), 925–933 see here
Sharma, P. (2014). Democracy and Transparency in the Indian State: The Making of the Right to Information Act. Routledge see here
 This is calculated through MOJ (2012a) statistics on use for central government of for that year added to estimated local government requests from the Constitution Unit survey of 2010 (with 20% added to estimate increase).