The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that central and state information commissions must appoint high court chief justices or Supreme Court judges — sitting or retired — as chairpersons, inviting criticism from activists and legal experts.
“The information commissions shall henceforth work in benches of two members each — a judicial member and an expert member,” said a bench of justice AK Patnaik and justice S Kumar. The RTI Act should be amended quickly to avoid “ambiguity”, it said.
The Central Information Commission (CIC), the watchdog that oversees implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, decided to stop work soon after, a source said. A similar situation could arise in the states.
The CIC will now seek the government’s legal opinion. Chief information commissioner Satyananda Mishra said the SC order would be discussed on Friday.
Till August this year, the CIC had more over 17,000 pending cases. It means a wait of at least three months to get an RTI appeal heard.
“The first disastrous effect of the order is that all (RTI) hearings will have to stop till the judicial members are appointed,” said Shekhar Singh, who was involved in the drafting of the RTI law.
RTI activist SC Aggarwal said: “The culture of adjournments widely prevalent in the judiciary should not spread to the CIC and state commissions.”
Advocate Prashant Bhushan said the court didn’t address the lack of transparency in appointment of information commissioners.
The ruling creates 168 post-retirement opportunities for judges as all posts of chief information commissioners and half the posts of information commissioners will go to judicial members.