IT-savvy Karnataka ranks 15th among India's 28 states in complying with the Right to Information (RTI) Act with a below average performance. Nagaland and Delhi score high in providing information, according to an assessment report by the city-based Public Affairs Centre (PAC).
"Though Karnataka is one of the leading states in IT industry, its compliance with the RTI Act is below average, while Nagaland and Delhi ranked high with a performance level of 62 percent and 56 percent respectively," PAC founder Samuel Paul told reporters at the report's release here on Monday evening.
"Even economically backward Bihar scored 55 percent and ranked among the top five compliant states," he added.
The RTI Act was approved by parliament in 2005 to enable citizens access information under the control of public authorities and promote transparency and accountability. It extends to the entire country except Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the National Assessment of the Degree of Compliance to Suo Moto Disclosure Provisions of RTI Act, the response of ministries and departments under the central government to information sought was far better at 53 percent, than state governments at 28 percent and union territories at 19 percent.
"The department of commerce and ministry of panchayati raj top scored with 87 percent degree of compliance followed by ministry of agriculture and cooperation and ministry of urban development at 80 percent. The ministry of environment and forests scored the lowest at 11 percent, while the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation showed zero percent compliance as evident from its website, which contained no information pertaining to suo moto provisions," Paul said.
At the state level, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam showed zero compliance, while Uttarakhand and Kerala were at the bottom of the list as "least-compliant".
Releasing the report, former chief justice of India Justice MN Venkatachalaiah lamented that governments enacted laws like the RTI with great fanfare but failed to follow up with credible implementation.
"The poor performance of most governments on this score simply reflects their indifference to empowering people with information. Parliament gave us the right to information, but governments are giving us the right to ignorance," Venkatachalaiah said.
Local government agencies such as municipal bodies and panchayats (local bodies) were excluded from the assessment as an initial search revealed many of the city corporations of even state capitals did not have a website.
The degree of compliance was in proportion to the administrative reforms taken, especially the e-governance initiatives. For instance, Nagaland is one of the first states to introduce e-governance reforms whereas Delhi has made it mandatory for every department to allocate two percent of its total allocation for IT initiatives within the department.
"Delhi is also rated high on the e-readiness survey. The third most impressive performance is of Bihar - recently conferred with the national award for e-governance - for its famed 'Jaankaari' call centre for providing information under RTI Act," the report highlighted.
With an average compliance percentage score of 19 percent, the performance of the six union territories was worse than the state governments. Lakshadweep and Dadra & Nagar Haveli with zero percent scores obtained the lowest percentage compliance score. Puducherry at 46 percent and Chandigarh at 41 percent were the top scorers.
The combined average compliance percentage score for state information commissions (SIC) and the central information commission (CIC) is 44 percent. The seven lowest performers amongst SICs, with zero percent scores, are Kerala, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The month long assessment - from December 2008 to January 2009 - revealed that low compliance rates were the result of weak political will and administrative commitment, indifference of public authorities, failure of bureaucracy, lack of accountability for implementation of suo moto provisions, wide variability in the implementation of suo moto provisions, gross under-utilisation of websites and overload on public authorities arising from failure of suo moto disclosure.
The report strongly recommended fixing responsibility for the implementation of suo moto provisions, prioritising categories of information under suo moto provisions, expediting the pace of cataloguing, indexing and computerisation of records, incentives for proactive disclosure and periodic evaluations of compliance to suo moto disclosures.