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SC seeks status report on Information Commissioners’ vacancies

SC seeks status report on Information Commissioners’ vacancies
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to file a status report over vacancies of Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission (CIC).

A Bench of Justices S. A. Bobde, S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari was hearing a petition seeking directions for appointment of Information Commissioners of the CIC and State Information Commissions (SICs).

Well-known advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner and RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj told the court that despite its direction dated February 15, the Central government and state governments have failed to comply with the order directing timely appointments to CIC and SICs against existing vacancies.

After hearing his submission, the court asked the Centre and the concerned state governments to file compliance and status reports with respect to the February 15 judgement.

The court was informed that four posts of Information Commissioners are lying vacant in the CIC. Out of the four vacancies, three arose out of routine and scheduled retirement of Information Commissioners upon the expiry of their five-year tenure or upon them attaining the age of sixty five years.

One of the vacancies occurred when one of the existing Information Commissioners was appointed as Chief of the CIC with effect from January 1, 2019. One of the commissioners finished his term on November 21 last year while one retired on November 24 last year and another retired in December 2018.

On February 15, the top court had held that proper functioning of information commissions with adequate number of commissioners was vital for the implementation of the RTI Act. The court had also held that as the RTI Act provided that information commissions should consist of a Chief and up to ten commissioners “as may be deemed necessary”, the number of commissioners required should be determined on the basis of the workload. The top court’s direction in February had come on a plea filed by an RTI activist seeking to fill vacancies in the CIC.

Citing the judgement of the top court, Bhushan pleaded before the apex court to direct the Union Government to take immediate steps to fill the vacancies in the CIC by appointing 4 Information Commissioners in a transparent and time-bound manner.

He has also sought direction to the Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha governments to take immediate steps to appoint Chief State Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners of the respective SICs, as necessary, in a transparent manner.

He has also requested the court to direct the state governments to assess the number of Information Commissioners required on the basis of the workload in the respective information commissions.

The Andhra Pradesh State Information Commission has been functioning without a Chief Information Commissioner ever since the SIC was constituted in August 2017. In fact, no Information Commissioner was appointed for nearly two years.

Maharashtra and Odisha have not filled the post of information commissioner after retirement of the previous commissioner. In Maharashtra, two posts are lying vacant since November 2018 while in Odisha, one post is lying vacant after the retirement of a commissioner in May 2019.

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