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RTI Queries Don't Affect Govt. Work

The time spent by government officials replying to RTI is so little that it cannot be a pretext for them to shirk that task

Published: Feb 23, 2012 06:32:37 AM IST
Updated: Feb 22, 2012 04:29:09 PM IST
RTI Queries Don't Affect Govt. Work
Image: Sameer Pawar

In August 2011, the Supreme Court made an observation which had some unintended consequences on the Right to Information (RTI) process. The judgement by Justice R.V. Raveendran is turning out to be a seemingly legitimate excuse for government officials to restrict information.

Aditya Bandopadhyay went to court when the Central Board of Secondary Education declined to provide his examination answer sheets under the RTI Act. While the court allowed access to answer sheets, it also observed that the cherished right to information should not affect administrative efficiency.

In his judgement, Justice R.V. Raveendran said: “The nation does not want a scenario where 75 percent of the staff of public authorities spends 75 percent of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties. The threat of penalties under the RTI Act and the pressure of the authorities under the RTI Act should not lead to employees of public authorities prioritising information furnishing at the cost of their normal and regular duties.” Government officials are now using this excuse with increasing frequency saying that even the court agrees. Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi says 75 percent government staff spending 75 percent of their time on giving information would mean 56 percent (0.75 X 0.75) of their total time spent only on replying to RTI queries.RTI Queries Don't Affect Govt. Work

Gandhi says that at the most optimistic estimate not more than one crore RTI applications are likely to be received by all public authorities across the country in 2012. The average time to attend to each would be less than three hours. That means no more than three crore hours spent by all officials.

Assuming that an average government employee works for just six hours a day for 200 days a year, it would mean he would work for a total of 1,200 hours in a year. That means 25,000 (3 crore divided by 1,200) employees would be required full time. The Centre and all state governments have about 1.2 crore employees. So, the total time spent by government employees on replying to RTI queries would be 0.208 percent (25,000 divided by 12,000,000).

In other words, no more than 4.6 percent officials are spending 4.6 percent of their time on giving information. This is based on conservative assumptions. Surely, government officials work for more than six hours a day! Doesn’t look like they have much space to hide.

(This story appears in the 02 March, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Anand Jha

    We all know for what our government employees are known. After the induction of RTI, the only productive thing they have been doing is to mulling their "productive time" to furnish RTI information. From the following quotation in the coulumn: Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi says 75 percent government staff spending 75 percent of their time on giving information would mean 56 percent (0.75 X 0.75) of their total time spent only on replying to RTI queries. However, unintentilly, they have shown their efficiency level in respect to the RTI details. Their total efficiency is equal to 4/3 times of the one required to furnish details sought through the RTI. They do that much of "productive" job for the nation, where 3/4th of productivity equals in the furnishing RTI detail. Even if they have no RTI detail to furnish, what they do is equal to 4/3 times the effort required to clear the RTI detail. This is the way the government systems run. They have to find a way out to avoid adding some more time behind work from the otherwise idle routine in the mostly 5 days a week of 4.5 hours a day.

    on Feb 24, 2012
  • Vijaykumar B. Borkar

    If there are honest officials in the government machinery the number of RTI applications would definitely come down. But eight officials out of ten are not honest with there duties and responsibilities. Every where we find that the government machinery is itself responsible for chaos and confusion as far as the working of that machinery is concerned but in one way or the other these fraud government officials blame the RTI Act.

    on Feb 23, 2012
  • Suresh K

    Though the statistics involved in the author's calculation should be appreciated, I fear that there is one fundamental flaw in the assumptions made by him. Not all the 1.2 Crore employees are capable/authorised of/to reply(ing) to RTI queries - obviously there are peons, drivers etc!!

    on Feb 23, 2012
    • Shailesh Gandhi

      The time for replying to a RTI query includes time spent by peons and clerks

      on Feb 24, 2012