The non-appointment of Central Information Commissioners (CICs) and State Information Commissioners (SICs) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act or, appointing them sluggishly has become a common story in the last few years. Finally, RTI activists have filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, “for securing the fundamental right of citizens to access information from public authorities.”
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As per the March 2018 ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India’ – eight information commissions had a waiting time of more than one year for an appeal/complaint to be heard, which was calculated on the basis of the number of appeals and complaints pending as of 31 October 2017 and the monthly disposal rate. Also, several information commissions are functioning without a Chief Information Commissioner thereby undermining the autonomy of the Commission and hampering its smooth functioning.
As per the petition, currently there are four vacancies in the Central Information Commission, even though more than 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending .So, how many chairs of information commissioners across the country are still vacant? Here’s a glimpse:
- The State Information Commission (SIC) of Andhra Pradesh is completely non-functional as not a single information commissioner has been appointed to the commission.
- The SIC of Maharashtra which has a backlog of more than 40,000 appeals and complaints, has four vacancies.
- The SIC of Kerala is functioning with only a single commissioner and has more than 14,000 pending appeals and complaints.
- There are 6 vacancies in the SIC of Karnataka even though nearly 33,000 appeals and complaints are pending.
- Odisha is functioning with only 3 commissioners and Telangana with 2 commissioners and their backlogs are more than 10,000 and 15,000 appeals/complaints respectively.
- The SIC of West Bengal is functioning with only two commissioners and is today hearing appeals/complaints which were filed 10 years ago.
- Several information commissions like that of Gujarat, Nagaland and Maharashtra are functioning without the Chief Information Commissioner, even though the RTI Act envisages a crucial role for the chief commissioner, with the administration and superintendence of the commission vesting with the Chief.
Petitioners Anjali Bharadwaj, Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) and Arita Johri, elaborate on the importance of appointment of information commissioners and in a transparent manner, thus:
- The RTI Act, 2005 prescribes statutory timelines of 30 days for providing the information from the date of application (ordinarily) and disposal of first appeal within a maximum period of 45 days. The objective of disclosure of information in a time-bound manner is being defeated as the CIC and SICs are taking several months, and in some cases several years, to dispose of appeals/complaints, due to non-appointment of Information Commissioners.
- The effective functioning of Information Commissions, the final adjudicators under the RTI Act, is critical for the health of the transparency regime in the country. Further, lack of transparency in the appointment of information commissioners, and the violation of directions of the Supreme Court regarding the procedure for appointment of information commissioners, is undermining the institution of the information commission.
- In several cases, courts have set aside the appointment of commissioners due to deficiencies in the selection process. Therefore, through this petition, the petitioners pray for a direction for immediate filling of posts of information commissions in the CIC and in the various SICs. The said appointments must be made transparently, in accordance with the judgments of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.
Dereliction of Duties:
November 2015: State Information Commission of West Bengal was non-functional and did not hear any appeals or complaints from November 2015 to July 2016 as there was only one commissioner in the SIC during this time.
September 2016: Central government invited applications for the post of two information commissioners of CIC vide their circular/communication dated on 2 September 2016 in anticipation of the vacancies occurring in December 2016 and February 2017. However, till date none of the vacancies have been filled.
December 2016: Central Information Commissioner M.A. Khan Yusufi finished his term and retired. Until end of 2016, CIC was functioning at full strength of 1 Chief and 10 information commissioners. In February 2017, CIC Basant Seth retired after which two vacancies arose in the CIC.
April 2017: Chief State Information Commissioner of Maharashtra Information Commission finished his term and retired. This post was recently filled, after remaining vacant for a long time.
April 2017: State Information Commission of West Bengal was non-functional and did not hear any appeals or complaints from April 2017 to July 2017 as there was only one commissioner in the SIC during this time.
May 2017: State Information Commission of Andhra Pradesh became defunct after the retirement of the serving information commissioners.
June 2017: Petitioners were signatories to a letter by the National Campaign of Peoples’ Right to Information addressed to the Prime Minister urging him to fill the vacancies in the Central Information Commission by appointing information commissioners.
August 2017 Andhra Pradesh government issued an order regarding the constitution of the SIC of Andhra Pradesh, but till date not a single commissioner has been appointed to the commission.
September 2017: CIC Sharat Sabharwal finished his term and retired. 3 vacancies arose in the CIC.
September 2017: Toshi Aier, Chief State Information Commissioner of Nagaland SIC retired. Since then SIC of Nagaland has been functioning without a Chief State Information Commissioner.
October 2017 More than 8000 appeals and complaints are pending before the Stat Information Commission of West Bengal as per information obtained under the RTI Act
October 2017 Kerala SIC is functioning with only one commissioner even though nearly 14,000 appeals and complaints are pending with the commission as per information obtained under the RTI Act.
October 2017: Telangana SIC is functioning with only two commissioners in the commission, despite more than 15,500 appeals and complaints pending before the commission as per information obtained under the RTI Act.
January 2018: Central Information Commissioner Manjula Prasher finished her term and retired. Four vacancies arose in the CIC.
January 2018: Gujarat Chief State Information Commissioner retired and the position is currently vacant.
February 2018: Maharashtra SIC is functioning with only seven commissioners as against a sanctioned strength of eleven commissioners. Information accessed from the website of the Maharashtra SIC shows that at the end of February 2018, more than 40,000 appeals and complaints were pending before the commission.
April 2018: Backlogs of more than 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending before Central Information Commission. The CIC website shows that even appeals and complaints filed in 2016 are currently pending for disposal by the commission.
April 2018: Information available on the website of the Karnataka SIC shows that the commission is functioning with only five commissioners (including the chief).
May 2018: Information obtained under the RTI Act shows that as of 31 October 2017 nearly 33,000 appeals and complaints were pending before the SIC. Odisha SIC is functioning with only three commissioners (including the Chief). Information obtained under the RTI Act shows that as of 31 October 2017, more than 10,000 appeals and complaints were pending before the SIC on 24 April 2018.
The petitioners have prayed for immediate steps to fill up the vacancies by the Indian government for Central Information Commissioners and by the specific States, which have vacancies. The case will come up for hearing on 2nd July