The Central Information Commission (CIC) was a body created under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) to oversee the functioning of the right to information in India. The CIC is empowered to hear appeals against public authorities arising out of non-disclosure of information. In this regard the CIC can pass orders based on such appeals. However, there is yet to exist a mechanism for enforcing the CIC orders and decisions. For example, the higher judiciary can hold those not complying with its Orders as being in contempt of court. In the case of the CIC this does not exist. This issue came to light through the PIL filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) in the Supreme Court. The PIL was filed against political parties for not complying with the CIC order which had held them to be public authorities.
The RTI Act only applies to ‘public authorities’ defined under Section 2(h) of the Act. The CIC, in its 2013 order, had found political parties to fall within the definition under this section and had directed them to appoint Public Information Officers and to comply with the Act. However, ADR is not the only one to have raised issues for the seemingly toothless nature of the CIC. M. Sridhar Acharyulu, an Information Commissioner, mentioned this issue in a letter to the Chief Information Commissioner, the Commission and the Information Commissioners on Feb 21. He was also on the Bench to hear the ADR appeal against political parties.
The letter stressed the need for the CIC to enforce its orders. It stated that if the CIC is unable to ensure that its orders are complied with, it would seriously affect the credibility of the institution. The letter also mentioned that the orders of the High Court of Delhi had not been followed. The Delhi High Court had directed the commission in one instance to hear the matter in a timebound manner and in another it directed that the senior most Information Commissioner hear the matter. A more worrying part of the letter was that Acharyulu hinted that the CIC was not free from external influence. Given the quasi-judicial nature of the CIC and that it follows the procedure in the Code of Civil Procedure, its independence should be guaranteed.
The concluding paragraph of the letter appeared to be one of impending doom. Referring to the issues raised, he questioned whether “this institution [should] continue without any purpose, as a burden on the people’s exchequer, and wait for people to demand scrapping of?” The RTI Act was passed as a legislation to ensure a “practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. The allegations raised in the letter have a direct bearing on the stated objectives of the Act. It does not bode well when a body to ensure transparency has allegedly become opaque.