Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Modi Urged to Ensure Speedy Appointment of Central Information Commissioners

The Wire: New Delhi: Tuesday, June 06, 2017.
Pointing out that even though nine months have passed since the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) initiated the process of inviting applications for the posts of two central information commissioners, which were to fall vacant, the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) has now written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in-charge of the ministry, to ask him to ensure that the appointments are made at the earliest.
The NCPRI stated in a letter sent today that two posts of information commissioners at the Central Information Commission (CIC) have been lying vacant for several months now as M.A. Khan Yusfi and Basant Seth retired on December 31, 2016, and February 17, 2017, respectively. “While the DoPT had invited applications for the posts in September 2016, well before the vacancies arose, no appointments have been made till date,” the letter said.
Number of pending cases on the rise
The group has brought to the prime minister’s notice that “under the RTI Act, information commissions are the final appellate authority and are entrusted with the crucial task of deciding appeals and complaints of persons who have been unable to secure information in accordance with the RTI Act or are aggrieved by violations of the Act” and therefore it was “imperative that these bodies function effectively and dispose cases before them in a timely manner”.
Noting that the CIC has been functioning at a reduced strength for almost five months, the NCPRI has told the prime minister that the vacancies were “hindering peoples’ fundamental right to information,” as guaranteed under the RTI Act, 2005. It said, with fewer information commissioners hearing cases, people have to wait longer for their appeals and complaints to be heard by the CIC.
The letter stated that according to the information available on the website of the CIC as on June 1, 2017, nearly 27,000 appeals and complaints were pending before the commission.
Appointment process should be made public
The NCPRI has also raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the appointment process. “In response to an application filed under the RTI Act, the DoPT has denied information about the process adopted for shortlisting candidates. The department has refused to disclose the names of people who have applied in response to the DoPT circular inviting applications for the two posts,” it said.
The NCPRI told the prime minister that such an approach runs contrary to the norms. It said the “Supreme Court has underlined the need for transparency in the appointment of information commissioners” and “courts have struck down appointments of several information commissioners in state information commissions on account of lack of transparency in the process of appointments.”
The NCPRI has demanded that “the process and criteria for selecting candidates must be made public and the qualifications and backgrounds of short-listed candidates should be displayed in the public domain”.