Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Consult leader of largest party in Lok Sabha, appoint chief information commissioner immediately: Modi told

By Our Representative
The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), India’s apex body of right to information (RTI) NGOs in India, has taken strong exception to failure of the Government of India to appoint a new chief information commissioner (CIC) in the Central Information Commission of India, ostensibly because of the deadlock over leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. Saying that this may be a requirement to appoint CIC, the NCPRI in an open letter has reminded Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the RTI Act gives clear-cut explanation on this, and there is no ambiguity about it.
In a signed letter to Modi, co-conveners of the NCPRI Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Venkatesh Nayak, Bhaskar Prabhu and Rakesh Dubbudu said that this is for the first time that the top post of the CIC is lying vacant: “The post of the CIC in the Central Information Commission of India has been lying vacant since August 22, 2014. It is the first time since the Central Information Commission was constituted in 2005, that the Commission is without a CIC.”
The letter quotes Section 12(4) of the RTI Act, which says, “The general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the Central Information Commission shall vest in the Chief Information Commissioner who shall be assisted by the Information Commissioners and may exercise all such powers and do all such acts and things which may be exercised or done by the Central Information Commission autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority under this Act.”
The NCPRI says, “Clearly, the aforementioned section implies that the role of the Chief Information Commissioner is critical for the functioning of the Central Information Commission. The post of the Chief Information Commissioner being vacant, therefore, has the potential to adversely impact the effective functioning of the Commission.”
It adds, “Already there is a huge backlog in the Central Information Commission with close to 25,000 appeals and complaints pending in the Commission. Often people have to wait for more than a year for their appeals and complaints to be heard. The lack of a CIC will cause the pendency in the Commission to further increase.”
Quoting reports which say that the appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner has been held up due to the absence of a Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the NCPRI says, “However, this cannot be the rationale for not appointing the Chief Information Commissioner since the RTI Act clearly specifies that in case no Leader of Opposition has been recognised, the leader of the single largest party in opposition in the Lok Sabha shall be deemed to be Leader of Opposition for the purpose of selecting Information Commissioners.”
The NCPRI quotes Section 12(3) of the RTI Act for this, which says: “(3) The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee consisting of (i) the Prime Minister, who shall be the Chairperson of the committee; (ii) the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; and (iii) a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.”
The NCPRI quotes the accompanying explanation to underscore: “For the purposes of removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that where the Leader of Opposition in the House of the People has not been recognised as such, the Leader of the single largest group in opposition of the Government in the House of the People shall be deemed to be the Leader of Opposition.”
Asking Modi to take “immediate steps to appoint a Chief Information Commissioner in the Central Information Commission in a transparent manner”, the NCPRI reminds him, “You have repeatedly stated your resolve to make India corruption free, a resolve which can only be realised if the government functions in a transparent manner.” For this, “it is critical that the RTI Act, which guarantees citizens the right to access information from public authorities, is effectively implemented. This would be possible only if the adjudicators -- the Information Commissions -- function properly”, it adds.

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