Days before dates for the Lok Sabha elections are announced and a code of conduct prevents fresh official appointments, the government is looking to name at least two new commissioners at the Central Information Commission (CIC).
The commissioners — Right To Information (RTI) watchdogs who decide what information the government should share with citizen— are decided by a committee headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and includes Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani.
But the process of selection is completely opaque.
Minister of State at the Prime Minister’s Office, Prithviraj Chavan said: “The Prime Minister was ill, and so the process could not take place earlier. The appointments are on the anvil. Two vacancies are there.”
The CIC currently has seven commissioners after O.P. Kejriwal retired on February 22. Rules allow up to ten commissioners to be appointed.
Currently, the number of appeals disposed by each commissioner varies wildly (see Box). Leading information activists oppose fresh appointments. Shekhar Singh of The National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information — a network of groups who lobbied for the RTI law — is writing to the government against more appointments.
Singh said, “The current commissioners can comfortably end the pendency if they dispose 250-300 appeals per month.
Commissioners are akin to Supreme Court judges, expensive posts funded by the taxpayers’ money. If the existing commissioners are equipped with adequate support staff and infrastructure and their performance is monitored, pendencies can be tackled effectively.”
Earlier this month, the government had turned down Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi’s request to equip existing commissioners with more staff instead of appointing more commissioners. It said the Department of Expenditure had placed a bar of seven staff per commissioner.
Gandhi's contention, in a letter to the PMO, read: “An Information Commissioner needs a staff of at least 16 to deliver on all counts…no systematic evaluation has been done in the last few years. If the Department of Expenditure is going to decide the number of staff, the sole criterion is the availability of money. If this be the case, it would be prudent to have less commissioners and give them adequate staff.”