The Cost of RTI

There are a number of articles, opinion posts and research material on the internet that evaluate the benefits and shortcomings of India’s Right to Information (RTI) Act. While I have my own reservations about how it has been enacted and implemented, I will stay away from any comments on that in this article.

Here, I want to post some numbers and analysis on what may be the cost of implementing RTI for India’s Governments (Central and State) from an employee productivity point of view. In other words, how many people does it take to implement RTI?

I want to warn in advance that this article makes a number of assumptions to arrive at the calculations. However, I believe the assumptions are conservative and should not deviate much from the actuals. The assumptions are, of course, necessary since much of the needed data is not available in public.

From the Annual Report for 2015-16 of the Central Information Commission, we get some idea about the number of RTI queries being handled by the various departments of the Central Government.

From page 15 of the report, we gather that in the year 2015-16, the sum total of RTI applications received/processed is 1165217.

Typically, the steps involved in handling of an RTI application would be as follows.

  • PIO/APIO receives the application.
  • APIO records the receipt of the application in the necessary record books.
  • APIO goes through the request, understands the information sought.
  • APIO gathers the information sought.
  • APIO drafts the reply quoting the information sought, and documenting the response.
  • The physical copy of the reply is taken to the PIO for signature
  • Document is posted to the applicant.

In a few cases, the application is rejected on various grounds. From the annual report we gather that this percentage is about 6-7.

I am assuming an average of about 1 hour spent on handling a single RTI request.

  • Remember that this is a very conservative figure. For e.g. if the applicant has sought information that spans multiple agencies or runs into multiple pages, the whole process of providing the information goes into multiple-stages and involves numerous other people.
  • Further the effort involved in the mailing process has been ignored. I am taking a simplified view of the whole situation for analysis purposes.
  • Also, the whole procedure involved in First Appeals/Second Appeals is ignored here. That typically takes several days for each application. About 10% of all applications end up in a First Appeal.

Based on this conservative estimate of about 1 hour per RTI application, for the Union Government to process all applications in 2015-16 – it takes about 1165217 hours.

Central Government:

Total hours required – 1165217

Assume a total working schedule of 8 hours for a Central Government employee. Out of this, let us keep aside 2 hours for non-productive work (again conservative estimate) such as lunch, refreshment breaks and rest. That gives about 6 hours of work per day.

Total man days required – 194203

Based on this article, an individual Central Government employee works for about 184 days in a year.

Therefore,

Total number of people required to handle all requests in the year – 1056

Note that the above calculation assumes the employees work with 100% efficiency 🙂

State Governments:

Due to lack of availability of exact numbers, I am going to make some estimates here.

From the Karnataka Information Commission website, we note that the total number of RTI requests processed in the year 2012-13 is 408263.

The growth rate of total number of RTIs between 2012-13 and 2015-16 is about 30% as per the CIC report linked above. Using the same percentage, we can arrive at 530741 as the number of RTI requests in Karnataka in the year 2015-16.

Karnataka’s population, as of 2011, was 6 crores out of a total of 122 crores in the whole of India. Which means that the ratio of Karnataka’s population is about 1/20 (roughly).

Applying the same ratio to the total RTI requests, we can arrive at a number of around 10614820.

Total number of RTI requests in various state governments in India – 10614820.

In the calculation for the Central Government above, we noticed that 1165217 RTIs required 1056 people.

Therefore 10614820 RTIs require about 9619 people.

So total number of people including Central and State Governments – 1056 + 9619 = 10675 people!

There are numerous other organizations in this country that come under the ambit of RTI. It is next to impossible to get data on their number and the volume of requests they handle. So we ignore them here.

The above calculation assumes an efficiency rate of 100%. Which means the people involved work non-stop on RTI application processing for 6 hours every working day!

If actual efficiency is 80% – total people working goes up to 13344.

If actual efficiency is 50% (most likely) – total people working goes up to 21350.

If all the people in India’s Governments working on RTI query processing were to be carved into a separate department, it would certainly be one of the largest employers in the country!!

Now think about this – RTI is a pull based model. You get the information when you ask for it. But that information is already supposed to be available in public (because it is public information anyways – that’s why they give it to you).

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