A study, "Who uses the RTI Act and for what?" conducted by the Right to Information Assessment and Advocacy Group (RAAG), was presented in the 'Western India RTI Convention 2014'. The convention, a joint initiative by the Mahiti Adhikar Manch and Department of Civics and Politics of the University of Mumbai, was held at the Kalina Campus of the Mumbai University.
RAAG initiated the study in the backdrop of the earlier statements made by former PM, Manmohan Singh that the RTI Act was misused and "vexatious" applications were filed. "The idea was to see how many vexatious applications were filed as was suggested by the PM,"said Anjali Bharadwaj, one of the authors of the study.
Around 4,000 applications were filed across the country with various SICs asking for details about, and copies of, the applications by people between 2005 and 2008.
"Since there is no definition of vexatious applications, we tried to derive one of our own," said Amrita Johri, co-author of the study. Applications that can be tagged for the "misuse" were divided under several heads like vexatious, frivolous, requiring voluminous response, infringing privacy, seeking information covering a long time span, very lengthy application or asking too many questions or questions on too many topics, among others.
"Our findings indicate that less than 0.6% of the applications were conceivably vexatious or frivolous, or sought to infringe privacy," said Bharadwaj. Only 2% required voluminous responses, and 1% sought information that covered a long time span (over 10 years).
The study stressed that the government continued to be reluctant to provide suo motu information as 54% applications were asking information that should have been declared by the government on its own. About 20% applications were such that they did not require usage of the RTI Act. Only 26% of the applications asked for information that was not required to be disclosed proactively, either publicly or privately to the applicants.
The study stated that 68 % of the information was sought as a response and only 44% wanted documents for their applications. A bulk of the applications were about one or more public authorities (26%), followed by information about specific villages or sub-districts (10%). Specific locations (17%) and specific localities (4%) were other popular subjects. An overwhelming 90% citizens felt that political parties should come under the RTI Act.
Average length of the applications was 119 words, but after revised updates, it was 116.2 words, as compared to the 150 words permitted. A number of recommendations were suggested, including nomination of public information officer responsible for ensuring proactive disclosures and private sector be informed about their obligation to give information and governments bring out a guide indicating what types of information can be accessed from private bodies under what provisions "any other law."