Taking serious note of vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and state information commissions (SICs), the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre and the state governments to take steps to fill the posts, saying otherwise the 2005 law on right to information will become a “dead letter”.
A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra also asked the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to collect information from all states on aspects including the sanctioned strength of information commissioners in the SICs, vacancies at present and the total number of pending cases there.
“The Right to Information Act of 2005 will become a dead letter,” the CJI said, voicing concern over the vacancies after taking note of the submissions by senior advocate Prashant Bhushan who, while appearing for RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, said the SICs in states like Jharkhand, Tripura and Telangana have become defunct as there were no serving information commissioners.
“The lawyer has submitted a chart of huge vacancies. This would defeat the underlying spirit and express orders of this court.... As regards to the CIC, four Information Commissioners are working and seven vacant posts,” the bench said after taking note of Bhushan's submissions.
Bhushan, in the course of his arguments, highlighted the seven vacancies in the CIC and the fact that there was no Central Information Commissioner.
Even the four serving Information commissioners (ICs) will demit office in the coming months, he added.
Taking note of the submissions, the bench directed the DoPT to collate information from all states and file a status report, including on the aspect of steps being taken to fill the vacancies in SICs.
It also asked Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati to assist the bench in dealing with the matter.
“We direct all the states to take steps to fill posts (in SICs). List it after three weeks,” the bench ordered.
Bhardwaj, in her application, claimed the Centre and states have not followed the apex court’s 2019 judgement on issues including timely filling up of vacancies at the CIC and SICs.
The top court had in December 2019 directed the Centre and state governments to appoint information commissioners within three months at the CIC and SICs, observing there was a need to evolve guidelines to stop misuse of the Right to Information Act.
It had also directed the authorities concerned to put on their website the names of members of the search committee meant for selection and appointment of information commissioners (ICs) at the CIC.
It had then taken note of Bhushan's submission that the Centre and various states have not complied with the February 15, 2019 judgement of the apex court asking them to appoint ICs in the CIC, and the SICs within 1-6 months in a transparent manner.
"We direct the Centre and the states to conclude the appointment within three months," the bench had said, cautioning the authorities that a contempt petition may be filed if its order is not complied with.
The apex court had in its judgement also said information officers should include people of eminence from varied fields and the choice be not limited to bureaucrats alone. It had also highlighted the importance of the exercise being conducted in a transparent manner.
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