SC questions Centre over vacancies at CIC and SICs, seeks reply

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New Delhi | Updated: July 26, 2018 6:59:46 PM

The Supreme Court today questioned the Centre on the huge vacancies at the Central Information Commission.

The top court expressed annoyance during the hearing of a plea. (PTI)

The Supreme Court today questioned the Centre on the huge vacancies at the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions (SIC), observing that this was affecting the disposal of a large number of appeals and complaints.

The top court expressed annoyance during the hearing of a plea seeking immediate filling up of posts of information commissions in the CIC and in SICs and said the “government has to do something”.

A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan told Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand that functioning of these institutions will be hampered if there are vacancies.

“There are several vacancies in these bodies. This has become a phenomenon in various other statuatory bodies. You have to do something,” the bench told to Anand.

The ASG, who was present in the courtroom for some other matter, said she would seek instructions and revert back to the court.

“There are hundreds of applications pending. It cannot go on like this. Please look into it,” the bench said.

Advocate Kamini Jaiswal, appearing for RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra and Amrita Johri, said currently there were four vacancies in the CIC where over 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending.

She said the SIC of Andhra Pradesh was “completely non-functional” as not a single information commissioner has been appointed to the commission.

The bench then sought the response from the Centre and the state governments of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Kerala, Odisha, Karnataka and Gujarat and issued notices to them.

The plea said the Centre and the state governments have “attempted to stifle” the functioning of the RTI Act by failing to do their statutory duty of ensuring appointment of commissioners in the CIC and SIC in a timely manner.

“This is despite huge backlogs of appeals and complaints in many information commissions across the country. Due to non-appointment of information commissioners, several information commissions take many months, and in some cases even years, to decide appeals and complaints due to accumulation of pending appeals/complaints, thus defeating the entire object of the RTI Act, 2005,” the plea said.

It said that SIC of Maharashtra, which has a backlog of more than 40,000 appeals and complaints, has four vacancies, while the SIC of Kerala was functioning with only one commissioner and had over 4,000 pending appeals and complaints.

The plea further said that there were six vacancies in the SIC of Karnataka even though nearly 33,000 appeals and complaints are pending.

“Odisha is functioning with only three commissioners and Telangana with two commissioners and their backlogs are more than 10,000 and 15,000 appeals/complaints respectively”, it said.

The RTI activists in there plea said the SIC of West Bengal was functioning with only two commissioners and was hearing appeals/complaints filed 10 years ago.

The plea said several information commissions like that of Gujarat and Maharashtra were functioning without the Chief Information Commissioner, even though the RTI Act envisages a crucial role for this post on which the administration and superintendence of the commission is vested.

“The RTI Act, 2005 prescribes statutory timeline of 30 days for providing the information from the date of application (ordinarily) and disposal of first appeal within maximum period of 45 days,” it said.

The plea said the objective of disclosure of information in a time-bound manner was being “defeated” as the CIC and SICs were taking several months, and in some cases several years, to dispose of the appeals or complaints, due to non-appointment of Information Commissioners.

“The effective functioning of Information Commissions, the final adjudicators under the RTI Act, is critical for the health of the transparency regime in the country,” the plea said.

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