February 16, 2019:
On Friday, the Bench of Justice AK Sikri and Justice S Abdul Nazeer of Hon’ble Supreme Court issues directions to bring in transparency in the process of appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners at the Central & State level.
The Public Interest Litigation was filed by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj and Advocate Prashant Bhushan. The petitioners state that PIL is filed with the aim to have effective implementation of the Right to Information Act, 2005 so that fundamental rights of citizens to access information from public authorities are secured.
Under the RTI Act, the Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions have been created as statutory bodies to decide appeals and complaints against public authorities for non-compliance with the RTI law. On that basis, the petitioners assert that it is essential to have proper functioning of these institutions for effective implemention of the RTI Act.
Sections 7 and 19 of the RTI Act makes it clear that the RTI Act is a time-bound legislation for effectively exercising the ‘fundamental right to information’ guaranteed in Article 19 of the Constitution of India.
The three aspects which are raised by the learned Counsel for the petitioner and which are addressed by the Supreme Court are as follows:
- Timely filling up of the vacancies to ensure that the work of the Information Commissioners does not suffer.
- Transparency in the mode of appointments.
- Terms and conditions on which these appointments are to be made should be clearly stated.
The petitioners through the present PIL desire transparency and full disclosure of information depicting : (a) definite criteria for such appointments, (b) and such criteria should be made public in advance.
The Bench observes, “the petitioners are right in their submissions that there have been undue delays in filling up of these vacancies. We expect that the vacancies shall be filled up, in future, well in time…”.
General Directions laid down by the Bench for Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions:
- Insofar as transparency in Appointment of Information Commissioners is concerned, the Central Government is now placing all necessary information including issuance of the advertisement, receipt and applications, particulars of the applicants, composition of Selection Committee etc. on the website. All States shall also follow this system.
- Insofar as terms and conditions of appointment are concerned, no doubt, Section 13(5) of RTI Act states that the CIC and Information Commissioners shall be appointed on the same terms and conditions as applicable to the Chief Election Commissioner/Election Commissioner. At the same time, it would also be appropriate if the said terms and conditions on which such appointments are to be made are specifically stipulated in the advertisement and put on website as well.
- Tt would also be appropriate for the Search Committee to make the criteria for shortlisting the candidates, public, so that it is ensured that shortlisting is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria.
- It is expected that Information Commissioners are appointed from other streams as well and the selection is not limited only to the Government employee/ex-government employee.
- The respondents are expected to fill up vacancies, in future, without any delay. For this purpose, it would be apposite that the process for filling up of a particular vacancy is initiated 1 to 2 months before the date on which the vacancy is likely to occur so that there is not much time lag between the occurrence of vacancy and filling up of the said vacancy.
Supreme Court lays down that the aforesaid directions are given keeping in view the salient purpose for which RTI Act is supposed to serve.
The Court while disposing off the Writ Petition observes, “This Act is enacted not only to sub-serve and ensure freedom of speech. On proper implementation, it has the potential to bring about good governance which is an integral part of any vibrant democracy. Attaining good governance is also one of the visions of the Constitution. It also has vital connection with the development. All these aspects are highlighted above.”
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