Central Information Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava retires, activists cry foul

CIC chief Sudhir Bhargava is retiring on January 11. (DH Photo)

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has once again become headless with its chief Sudhir Bhargava retiring on January 11 and the government not appointing his replacing, prompting RTI activists to accuse the Narendra Modi government of "repeated and deliberate effort" to undermine the transparency regime.

They said since Modi government assumed power for the first time in May 2014, every time the Chief Information Commissioner has retired, there has been a gap (of up to nine months) between the retirement of the incumbent and the appointment of the new chief.

The Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) said, "there has been a repeated and deliberate effort by the BJP government to undermine the institution of the CIC to weaken the RTI Act. This is borne out by the consistent failure of the government to fill vacancies in the commission unless the court intervenes and by the recent regressive amendments made to the RTI Act to undermine the independence of the CIC."

It pointed out that the post of the Chief Information Commissioner was vacant between August 2014 and April 2015 when Rajiv Mathur retired. The post again fell vacant for one month in December 2015 when Vijay Sharma retired and subsequently again in December 2018 when R K Mathur retired.

"This is the fourth time the post of the chief has fallen vacant since the general elections of 2014. In fact, none of the vacancies in the CIC has been filled since May 2014 without people having to approach courts," it said adding there are four vacancies of Information Commissioners in the CIC which has a pendency of nearly 34,500 cases as on Wednesday.

The SNS said the date of Bhargava's retirement was known from the time he took over as the chief but the government failed to appoint his successor in a timely manner.

Pointing out to the February 2019 Supreme Court judgement, it said vacancies in information commissions should be filled without delay by initiating the process of appointment one to two months prior to the date on which the vacancy is occurring.

The Supreme Court had then said, "in case CIC does not have Chief Information Commissioner or other Commissioners with required strength, it may badly affect the functioning of the (RTI) Act which may even amount to negating the very purpose for which this Act came into force." 

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