Information Commissioners appointed from other streams also and not limited only to the Government employee/ex government employee – Says Supreme Court. Search Committee to make the criteria for shortlisting candidates public
ABCAUS Case Law Citation:
ABCAUS 2783 (2019) (02) SC
A Public Interest Litigation was filed by the Petitioner alleging that neither the Central Government nor the State Government are filling the vacancies for the appointment of Central Information Commission (‘CIC’) and State Information Commissions ( ‘SICs’) in a timely manner.
Ir was stated that as a result, the functioning of RTI Act is stifled. It is leading to huge backlogs of appeals and complaints in many Commissions across the country.
The petition pointed out that as per report published in March, 2018 titled, ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India’ the eight information commissions had a waiting time of more than one year for an appeal/complaint to be heard.
It was averred that as on the date of filing of the petition, four posts of Information Commissioners were lying vacant in the CIC. More than 23500 appeals and complaints were pending as on April 04, 2018, before the CIC. However, no effective steps have been taken for filling up of the vacancies. Though, the Central Government had invited applications for the post of two Information Commissioners vide Circular dated 2nd September, 2016 in anticipation of vacancies occurring in December, 2016 and February, 2017, these vacancies have not been filled.
The petitioners also alleged that there is a lack of transparency in the appointment of Information Commissioners inasmuch as the Central Government as well as various State Governments have failed to adopt proper procedure to ensure transparency in the shortlisting, selection and appointment of Information Commissioners. This lack of transparency, according to the petitioners, had led to filing of several cases in different courts challenging these appointments.
Thus, it was prayed that a direction be issued to the Union of India and various the State Governments to take immediate steps to fill the vacancies in the CIC/SIC by making appointment in a transparent and time bound manner.
It was also prayed that a direction be issued to the Union of India and all state governments to commence the selection process for information commissioners, including the Chief, at least three months prior to the occurrence of vacancy and to ensure that all records of deliberations and rational criteria related to short-listing and selection of the Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners be properly recorded and made available to citizens in consonance with the provisions of the RTI Act.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court, apart from issuing directions to the concerned State Governments to create more posts/fill the vacant posts within the directed time, issued the following general directions for CICs/SICs
(i) Insofar as transparency in appointment of Information Commissioners is concerned, pursuant to the directions given by this Court, the Central Government is now placing all necessary information including issuance of the advertisement, receipt and applications, particulars of the applicants, composition of Selection Committee etc. on the website. All States shall also follow this system.
(ii) Section 13(5) of RTI Act states that the CIC and Information Commissioners shall be appointed on the same terms and conditions as applicable to the Chief Election Commissioner/Election Commissioner. The said terms and conditions on which such appointments are to be made to be specifically stipulated in the advertisement and put on website as well.
(iii) The Search Committee to make the criteria for shortlisting the candidates, public, so that it is ensured that shortlisting is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria
(iv) Information Commissioners to be appointed from other streams, as mentioned in the Act and the selection is not limited only to the Government employee/exgovernment employee.
(v) The UOI and States to fill up vacancies, in future, without any delay. The process for filling up of a particular vacancy is initiated 1 to 2 months before the date on which the vacancy is likely to occur so that there is not much time lag between the occurrence of vacancy and filling up of the said vacancy.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court stated that aforesaid directions were given keeping in view the salient purpose which RTI Act is supposed to serve. The RTI 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. Attaining good governance is also one of the visions of the Constitution.