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Information Commissions: Apex Court seeks status of vacancies from Centre, 8 states

By Our Representative
The Supreme Court (SC) has directed the Government of India and eight state governments to file a status report regarding compliance with the judgment it gave on February 15, 2019 in a petition filed by senior Right to Information activist (RTI) activist Anjali Bhardwaj, Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra and Amrita Johri regarding vacancies in information commissions set up under the RTI Act. The next hearing is scheduled for December 16.
An apex court bench of justices SA Bobde, S Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari gave the order after hearing a petition filed in September 2019, represented through senior advocate Prashant Bhushan and advocates Pranav Sachdeva and Rahul Gupta. They argued argued that the Supreme Court directions on appointing information commissions had not been complied with by the Centre and eight states – Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat.
On February 15, 2019, the SC gave directions regarding timely and transparent appointment of information commissioners, insisting, the objective of the RTI Act is to ensure time-bound access to information and, therefore, commissions should dispose of appeals/complaints in a timely manner. In order to achieve this, the SC held, all information commissions should have adequate number of commissioners based on the workload.
SC opined that where there are large backlogs of appeals/complaints, the commissions should function at full strength i.e. one chief and 10 information commissioners. It asked Central and state governments to make appointments to commissions in a timely and transparent manner, even as directing them to make public the names of the members of the search and selection committees, the agenda and minutes of committee meetings, the advertisement issued for vacancies, particulars of applicants, names of shortlisted candidates, file notings and correspondence related to appointments, be placed in the public domain.
Status report has been sought from the Centre and Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat
Currently four posts of information commissioners in the Central Information Commission (CIC) are vacant and more than 33,000 appeals/complaints are pending, says a communique issues on behalf of the petitioners. On the directions of the apex court, the Central government issued an advertisement in January 2019, inviting applications for filling the 4 vacancies. “However, the appointments have not been made till date”, the communiqué said. 
“Further”, the communiqué said, “The central government has failed to follow the directions of the Court in terms of transparency in the appointment process. The government has not disclosed the composition of the search committee or selection committee, details of applications received in response to the advertisement or the criteria adopted for shortlisting of applications. 
In fact, the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) denied access to this information under the RTI Act, claiming that these were exempt under section 8(1)(i) which deals with cabinet papers and is not related to such matters.”
The apex court, referring to large number of pending cases in the Maharashtra State Information Commission (SIC), said, it should function at full strength of 11 commissioners (chief and 10 information commissioners). “However, the state government has failed to make appointments. Currently the SIC is functioning with only 5 commissioners even as more than 50,000 appeals/complaints were pending as of September 30, 2019”, the communiqué said.
“The SIC of Andhra Pradesh has been functioning without a chief ever since an independent commission was set up for the state in 2017 following the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana”, it added.

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