SC seeks status on vacancies under RTI Act in four weeks
The Supreme Court was told that the pendency of cases at the Central Information Commission (CIC) has crossed 36,000 while in Maharashtra, more than 75,000 cases are pending
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday gave four weeks to the Centre and states to report the status on vacancies in Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions after three transparency activists complained of huge pendency of cases under the Right to Information Act 2005 on account of the vacancies.
A bench of justices S Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari passed the order while hearing an application filed by three RTI activists – Anjali Bhardwaj, Commodore (retd) Lokesh K Batra and Amrita Johri, in a pending public interest litigation (PIL) filed by them.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who argued the application, told the court that the pendency of cases at the CIC has crossed 36,000 while in Maharashtra, it has crossed 75,000 cases due to continuing vacancies of information commissioners.
In February 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the government to start the process to fill vacancies two months before a post is to fall vacant. Later, in December 2019 when the top court saw that many posts were still vacant in the CIC, the court fixed a three-month deadline to fill up the posts.
The CIC has 10 sanctioned posts of information commissioners and one chief information commissioner.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Madhavi Divan, appearing for the Centre, said the Centre complied with the top court’s order and even filed a compliance report in April 2020. It has seven information commissioners and one chief information commissioner.
Bhushan informed the court that as per the February 2019 ruling, the Centre was also required to disclose its criteria to shortlist candidates for appointment to CIC and State information Commissions. He said that though 324 applications were received for the posts of information commissioners (IC) and chief information commissioner at CIC, the search committee headed by Cabinet Secretary did not disclose on what basis seven names were shortlisted for ICs and two names for Chief IC.
Prashant Bhushan referred to a dissent note of October 24, 2020 by Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary, who as a member of the selection committee under the RTI Act, was critical of the manner in which only retired bureaucrats were shortlisted for these posts along with a journalist who never applied in the first place.
“The government initially does not fill up vacancies and if they do, they do it with party acolytes, one of them being a bogus journalist and bureaucrats. They (Centre) are destroying the RTI Act,” Bhushan said. He requested the court to direct the Centre to disclose the selection criteria and the dissent note by Chaudhary.
ASG Divan objected to the use of the term “bogus journalist” and said that it was not proper for Bhushan to make statements against members without filing an affidavit to this effect. The bench flagged the crucial issue of vacancies and said that since April 2020, no fresh affidavit had come from Centre, it would like to be apprised of the current situation.
The issue of vacancies at CIC and SICs was viewed with anguish by the apex court in its February 2019 judgment where the court said, “This Right to Information Act is enacted not only to sub-serve and ensure freedom of speech. On proper implementation, it has the potential to bring about good governance which is an integral part of any vibrant democracy.”
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