The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre and state governments to file the latest status report on the filling up of vacancies in the central information commission (CIC) and the State information commissions (SICs).
A bench of Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari gave four weeks to the Centre and state governments to file the latest status report in the matter.
The top court order came on a PIL (public interest litigation) filed by activist Anjali Bhardwaj and others, seeking directions to the government to implement the top court's directions regarding appointment of information commissioners within a stipulated time and also in a transparent manner. The bench also allowed the petitioner to file an additional affidavit in the matter.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that in 2019, directions were issued to fill up the vacancies, and argued against the practice of selection of bureaucrats, either to run the commission, or to be on the selection committee.
"What they have done is quite shocking. They have not placed either the names of the candidates or the selection criteria on record. More than 300 people applied, but they shortlisted 7 people," he said, adding that there is nothing on record on the details of the criteria adopted, and reiterated that only bureaucrats are selected for these vacancies.
Mr Bhushan pointed out on 16 December 2019, the top court had directed the Centre and states to appoint Information Commissioners within three months in the CIC and the SICs, but vacancies continue to exist.
He pointed for, for example, that there is a pendency of 36,000 in the CIC and nearly 75,000 in Maharashtra State Information Commission and added that there are vacancies in Karnataka, Odisha etc.
He added that this pendency is destroying the purpose of the RTI Act which was brought following top court judgments wherein Right to Information had been upheld.
Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, representing the Centre, argued that the process of compliance has been carried out by the government and appointments were made in March 2020. She added that a compliance affidavit was filed on 24 April 2020.
Divan added that the maximum strength of the CIC is up to 10 members and right now, there are seven members. "If they are aggrieved by subsequent developments or by our affidavit, then they should say so on affidavit," she added.
Justice Nazeer pointed out that the compliance report was filed more than a year ago. "Let us know the latest position, and file the latest status report, and we will take a call on this," the bench added.
As Mr Bhushan argued: "What about states, many vacancies in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Odisha, etc. Let states also file response on the pendency and vacancies", the bench directed the Centre and states to submit the latest status report and also a compliance report within a period of four weeks.
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