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An affidavit filed in the Supreme Court in the matter related to the appointment of officers to the Central Information Commission (CIC) states that the Central government is “fully committed to implement the RTI Act”.
However, if the content of the rest of the affidavit is anything to go by, one may question the veracity of the above statement.
Given the Centre’s failure to fill up vacancies in the CIC, a petition came to be filed before the Supreme Court by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj and advocate Prashant Bhushan, among others.
The CIC, which is supposed to have one Chief Information Commissioner and ten Information Commissioners, is currently functioning with four vacancies. To make matters worse, by December this year, four more members will retire, including Chief Information Commissioner Radha Krishna Mathur.
When the matter came up for hearing before Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan on July 27, the Centre was directed to file an affidavit indicating how many posts it proposes to fill up, as well as the time schedule within which the posts are to be filled up.
Apart from this, the Centre was also directed to reveal why it did not make any appointments to the CIC pursuant to an advertisement made back in 2016. Moreover, the Court also directed the Centre to give its response to a few prayers made in the petition, including revealing a short list of candidates.
In its affidavit filed on August 27, the Centre has stated it has published an advertisement calling for applications for the posts of Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission at New Delhi.
The advertisement reveals that the Centre is currently advertising for only four posts. Given the fact that four other officers will retire by December – and assuming that the four current vacancies are filled by then – the CIC will find itself in exactly the same situation it faces now. Worse still, come December, we could see the CIC functioning without a head.
On a positive note, the affidavit states that the composition of the Selection Committee has been finalized.
However, the Centre has been loath to reveal the time schedule as per which this Committee will complete the appointment process. The affidavit states,
“…in the RTI Act, a specific time frame has not been stipulated for submission of recommendations by the Selection Committee…
…when the application process is still on and it is not known as to how many applications would be received, the precise time schedule within which the posts are to be filled up is difficult to be indicated.”
This statement must prompt a sense of déjà vu for the Supreme Court, having been acquainted with the government’s attitude towards processing judicial appointments to the high courts. The abject delay in approving Collegium recommendations has prompted strikes in courts across the country, and a petition filed in the Supreme Court calling for a detailed timeframe to be implemented for processing appointments.
Perhaps something on similar lines is needed for appointments to the CIC. In any case, it will be interesting to see how the Bench reacts to this statement made by the Centre. However, as per the Supreme Court website, the matter is listed next for December 3. By then, the damage could already be done.
As regards its failure to make appointments pursuant to a 2016 advertisement, the Centre has included in the affidavit an extremely vague reply. Suffice to say, it does not answer the question.
Quite surprisingly, the affidavit instead makes a reference to the Centre’s intention to amend the RTI Act, a move that has not gone down well with civil society. The affidavit states,
“A process for amendment of the Right to Information Act, 2005 was also initiated to incorporate express/specific enabling provisions for determining the term of ‘office’, salaries and allowances payable to and other terms and conditions of service of the Chief Information Commissioner and the Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and Chief State Information Commissioners and State Information Commissioners.
The aforesaid selection process was not pursued pending the outcome of the process for amendment of the Act.”
And as per RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, this is the reason why the Centre has not filled the vacancies in the CIC.
The affidavit filed in the Supreme Court betrays a lack of intention on the part of the Centre to be transparent about the process that would ensure that the highest authority for RTI applications in the country is adequately manned.
One cannot help but second guess the Centre’s level of commitment to the implementation of the RTI Act.
Read the affidavit: