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Post at: Jul 16 2021

SC Sought Status on Vacancies in the CIC & SIC

Why in News?

  • On 7th July, 2021, the Supreme Court directed Centre and States to file Status reports on compliance with its 2019 verdict for time-bound filling up of posts of information Commissioners at Central Information Commission (CIC) and State panels State information Commissions (SICs) under the Right to Information Act (RTI).

Why was direction issued by Supreme Court?

  • Despite reported instruction by the Supreme Court to the centre, on the issue of vacancies in the chief information commission, government approached the problem with half-hearted attempts.
  • Even though the CIC is pertinent cog in the wheel of RTI, Act, the government failed to comply with the order.
  • Inspite of Supreme Court’s 2019 verdict’s thrust upon transparency, centre’s November 2020 appointments were opaque.
  • Government itself produced National Data Sharing and Assesebility Policy in 2012. But it’s implementation lacks enthusiasm on the government’s part (This policy is a keystone in the architecture of transparency).

Background
On 15 February, 2019 in Anjali Bhardwaj vs Union of India case Supreme Court directed government, regarding governance of information commission, to heed following points:

  • The court said that appointment process should be transparent and has to be put in the public domain.
  • Also, the Bench noticed a strange phenomenon that Chief Information Commissioner as well as information Commissioners, which were appointed, belonged to Bureaucracy only.
  • So, court impressed upon the search committee to diversify the pool of candidates.
  • It directed that criteria for shortlisting the candidates should be made public.
  • The process for filling up a particular vacancy must be initiated 1 to 2 months before the date on which the vacancy is likely to occur.

What is Central Information Commission (CIC)?

  • The CIC has been constituted w.e.f. 12-10-2005 under the RTI Act, 2005.
  • The Jurisdiction of the commission extends over all centre public authorities.
  • The Central Information Commission shall consist of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and such number of Central Information Commisioners not exceeding 10 as may be deemed necessary.
  • Appointment Process

—    They are appointed by President on the recommendation of Search Committee consisting of :
1.    Prime Minister as Chairperson
2.    Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha
3.    A Union Cabinet Minister nominated by Prime Minister

Tenure:

  • The Chief Information Commissioner and an information commissioner shall hold office for such term as prescribed by the Central government or until they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • They are not eligible for reappointment.

Power and functions of CIC:

  • It is the duty of the commission to receive and inquire into a complaint from any person regarding information request under RTI Act, 2005.
  • The Commission can order an inquiry into any matter if there are reasonable ground (Suo-moto power).
  • While inquiring, the commission has the power of a civil court in respect of summoning, requiring documents etc.

Present Strength and Vacancies:

  • The new appointments, which took place in November 2020, has taken central information commissions strength to 6 members, plus one chief, which still leaves four vacancies.
  • In fact, the commission has not functioned at full strength for almost four years and is currently facing a backlog of more than 37,000 pending cases.

Anubhav Upadhyay
 


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