As a headless Central Information Commission (CIC) controversially celebrates nine years of the transparency law behind closed doors, there are indications that the CIC chief's absence has already dented the watchdog's autonomy. Being without a chief has placed the commission on a weak legal footing.
According to documents accessed under the RTI law, the government has taken control over the CIC's purse strings and placed them in the hands of department of personnel and training secretary (DoPT) Sanjay Kothari.
The move followed the vacancy in the chief information commissioner's post since 22 August and an SOS sent by the commission's secretary TY Das.
"In the absence of chief information commissioner, the financial powers... will be exercised by secretary (personnel)," the DoPT under secretary Sarita Nair said in a letter to the CIC last month.
The decision came on a request for an early decision from the CIC secretary, worried that the vacancy would bring work at the transparency watchdog to a grinding halt. Das had cautioned that the commission had been left with no administrative head "with the requisite administrative and financial powers".
"This is unfortunate," said RTI activist Lokesh Batra. "How does one expect the commission to function independently when it has to run to the civil service - whose cases it would be adjudicating - for everything," he said.
The post has been vacant since August 22 when Rajiv Mathur stepped down on completing his tenure. Unlike other laws, the RTI Act does not have any provision to temporarily designate any other commissioner as the chief.
Prominent RTI activists such as Anjali Bhardwaj have already spoken against the delay that had raised questions about the legal sanctity of the CIC's decisions.
A central information commissioner - speaking on condition of anonymity - said they had decided to hold a "brainstorming" session with their predecessors as a symbolic event. "We don't have a leader who can take decisions," he lamented.