The Supreme Court on Friday issued a slew of directives regarding the filling up of the vacancies in Central and State Information Commissions under Right to Information Act. The key directions passed by the bench of Justices A K Sikri, Abdul Nazeer and Subhash Reddy are:
Chief Information Commissioner should have the status of Chief Election Commissioners
Information Commissioners should not be just bureaucrats, and should be drawn from other professions and fields
Information Commissions to be insulated from direct executive control
Vacancies should be filled up within six months
Vacancies should be advertised well in time
Selection criteria adopted by search committee should be made public
The directions were passed during the hearing of a petition filed by RTI Activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Commodore Lokesh Batra and Amrit Johri, seeking expeditious filing up of vacancies in Information Commissions. Their petition claimed that over 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending with the Central Information Commission (CIC).
In the petition, they also claimed that the State Information Commission (SIC) of Andhra Pradesh was "completely non-functional", as not a single information commissioner has been appointed to the panel.
The RTI activists said that the West Bengal SIC was functioning with only two commissioners, and was hearing appeals and complaints filed 10 years ago. The plea stated that several information commissions like that of Gujarat and Maharashtra were functioning without the chief information commissioner, even though the RTI Act envisages a crucial role for this post on which the administration and superintendence of the commission is vested.
The petition also claimed that the Centre and the state governments have "attempted to stifle" the functioning of the RTI Act by failing to do their statutory duty of ensuring appointment of commissioners in the CIC and SIC in a timely manner. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners, contended that not only in the CIC, but also in the SICs, posts are lying vacant and no effective steps are taken in filling of these vacancies.
The Supreme Court on December 13 had asked the Centre and the states to maintain transparency in appointments of the chief information commissioner and information commissioners, and upload the details of search committees and applicants on the website. The Centre told the top court that the search committee has shortlisted names for the posts of the chief information commissioner, and a final decision will be taken soon.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, appearing for the Centre had informed the court that the total of 65 applications have come for the post, and 280 applications have been received for the post of four information commissioners in the CIC. She said that after these posts are filled up, a notification will be issued for inviting applications for remaining posts of the information commissioners.
Also read: Andhra Pradesh: State Information Commission Dysfunctional, Appeals Remain Pending