Retired officials don Information Commissioner's hat

59% of Information Commissioners appointed so far are retired officials

Women find it very difficult to get a seat in Information Commissions across the country

Representative image. Credit: iStock

Retired government officials have occupied more than half of the Information Commissioners’ posts so far, though the RTI Act prescribes broad criteria for selection, while women find it very difficult to get a seat in Information Commissions across the country.

A study by Satark Nagrik Sangathan and Centre for Equity Studies shows that 59% of the around 400 Information Commissioners appointed so far and for whom background material is available are retired government officials.

The next to follow are those with a legal background with 17% -- 13% lawyers and 4% retired judges. Journalists (10%) , academics and social workers (4% each) form the other chunk.

The proportion is skewed further when one analyses the background of 122 Chief Information Commissioners as 84% of them were retired government officials, which included 65% former IAS officers.

Read: 3.33 crore RTI queries filed in Centre, states since 2005; 38 posts of Information Commissioners vacant

When it comes to gender parity, the country’s Information Commissions appear to build a wall – only 10% of the Information Commissioners appointed so far are women. Fourteen states, including Bihar, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Himachal Pradesh, have never appointed a woman as Information Commissioner since its inception.

Among the heads, only 7% are women so far and currently, not a single woman heads the Information Commission.

"One explanation could be that these posts are sought after by retired and retiring civil servants, who often enjoy political patronage and are perhaps seen as being more pliant by the political masters," the 'Report Card of Information Commissions 2019-20' said.

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Among the 29 Information Commissions, including the Central Information Commissions, three of them -- West Bengal, Sikkim and Meghalaya have never appointed an Information Commissioner who was not a government servant.

Gujarat's 93% commissioners were former officials while 90% in Assam, 88% in Assam and 86% each in Maharashtra and Mizoram were drawn from the government sector.

More than half of the Information Commissioners appointed in 16 Commissions so far were retired government officials. In Karnataka, this figure was 54% while neighbouring Tamil Nadu has 58%, Andhra Pradesh (43%), Kerala (38%) and Telangana (14%).

Interestingly, lawyers and journalists were the other groups who found more space in these Commissions. In Goa, 33% of the Information Commissioners were lawyers while in Jharkhand, 36% were former judges.

Uttar Pradesh and Telangana had 43% each Information Commissioners with journalism as their background. Madhya Pradesh was another state with a higher proportion of journalists as Information Commissioners at 28%. The government has recently appointed senior journalist Uday Mahurkar in the Central Information Commission.

Read: RTI Act: 15 years on, transparency a mirage

The report said the Information Commissions need to be better-balanced bodies having greater gender parity and a mix of former civil servants, legal professionals, social activists, academics, journalists and other professionals.

"Even if decisions are taken by individual members, diversity would strengthen the working of Commissions by providing Commissioners opportunities to discuss cases with other Commissioners from different backgrounds, so that the final orders are a manifestation of all the experience and expertise that a Commission, with a varied membership, would be privy to," it said.