Paralyzed Information Commission….

The movement for transparency and access to justice is suffering since second appeals and complaints are languishing in the information commissions for indefinite periods. The commissions, either because of vacancies or pendency, are not adhering to timelines. There is no time-bound disclosure. With around 40,000 second appeals and complaints pending at the CIC and around two lakh all over the state ICs, the implementation of the RTI is disappointing. During Narendra Modi’s prime ministership, the CIC went without a head for about ten months in 2014-15, after Rajiv Mathur’s retirement.That was the beginning of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government. The RTI Act does not prescribe that senior-most of the commissioners should be the chief information commissioner. The high-powered committee led by the prime minister must select the chief, and recommend that the president appoint this person. In the constitutional frame of structuring the Supreme Court, it is not mentioned that senior-most judge should become the chief justice. Installing the senior judge as the chief is a constitutional convention, which cannot be breached. Fortunately, successive governments have filled the office of the chief justice of India promptly, without leaving it vacant even for a day. Unfortunately, that is not the case in high courts. Several high courts are left without chief justices for many days and compelled to function under acting chief justices. institution of the Central Information Commission is similarly important, though not at the same level as the Supreme Court is. The CIC and SICs are formed under the statute of the RTI Act, and hence called statutory institutions. But they implement a constitutionally guaranteed right to information evolved from rights under Articles 19(1)(a), 14 and 21. They should be given the same importance as a constitutional institution is given. In August 2014, for the first time the administration of the CIC came to stand-still because of the absence of a chief with the retirement of Rajiv Mathur from the post. For ten months, RTI queries against high-profile offices at second appeal level were denied. After 10 months, senior-most commissioner Vijay Sharma was appointed, in June 2015. And after his retirement, the Centre again did not appoint the chief immediately. The CIC was headless for five times within six years. Only for a brief period during the NDA regime has the commission worked at full strength of ten commissioners, when R.K. Mathur was the chief information commissioner. Along with him, two other commissioners and I retired within a month during November-December 2018. Since then, several positions remain vacant because of executive inaction. Neither the Commissions nor the government bothered to facilitate the timely delivery of information. The reluctance to fill the vacancies has spread to state governments. Reportedly at present, seven state information commissions – Bihar, Goa, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Tripura, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh – are functioning without a chief information commissioner. In the Jharkhand state information commission, the information commissioner’s position is also vacant.

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