SC asks Centre, states to fill info panel vacancies

Representative PTI image

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre and states to respond to a plea for filling up vacancies in the Central Information Commission and state transparency panels.

RTI activist Anjali Bharadwaj and others sought a direction to fill up vacancies in a time-bound and transparent manner in conformity with the previous apex court judgement of February 15, 2019.

A bench of Justices S A Bobde, S Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari issued a notice to the Centre and states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and others.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the applicant, contended the Centre had failed to make public names of members of search and selection committees, particulars of applicants, criteria followed to shortlist candidates and names of shortlisted candidates.

This has not been done despite the clear cut directions by the apex court, he said.

Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand said the search committee has been scheduled, in an indication that the appointment would be made soon.

"Just do it," the bench said, seeking a status report from the Union as well as state governments within four weeks on filling up the vacancies.

The applicant claimed the Department of Personnel and Training had denied information on the names of candidates and search committee as well as the criteria adopted for shortlisting.

“The fundamental right of citizens to access information from public authorities is being hindered by the non-appointment of commissioners in the CIC and various SICs across the country,” she said.

Four posts of Information Commissioners were vacant in the CIC out of 11 posts, even though nearly 32,500 appeals and complaints were pending before the panel on September 4. No appointment has been made against the vacancies advertised on January 4, 2019, she said.

The applicant contended the RTI Act was not followed in letter and spirit by the Centre and states in violation of the various rulings of the courts, which stated it was key for freedom of speech, good governance, and a prerequisite for the functioning of a healthy democracy.

There was no Chief Information Commissioner ever since the panel was constituted in August 2017 in Andhra Pradesh. The Maharashtra panel was functioning with only five Commissioners, even though more than 48,000 appeals and complaints were pending as of July 31, 2019. The Odisha Commission, on the other hand, was being managed with only the CIC and two Commissioners, though more than 11,000 appeals and complaints were pending as of March 31, 2019.

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