SC orders Center and states to file status report on vacancies in information committees


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New Delhi: The Supreme Court ordered the Union of India and the States to file affidavits on the status of information commissioner appointments under the Right to Information Act after a petition regarding the delay in nominations was filed before her. It was pointed out in the petition that despite repeated instructions from the SC, the Union failed to fill the vacant posts in the Information Committee, which resulted in a large number of pending cases. and long delays in dealing with appeals and complaints.

A bench of Judges S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari, which heard the case on July 7, gave the Center and States four weeks to file their responses. The petitioners, RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Amrita Johri and Commodore Lokesh K. Batra (retired) initially filed the case in 2018, as there was a perpetual shortage of information commissioners in the central and of State due to delays in the vacancies.

The petitioners, who were represented by lead counsel Prashant Bhushan and Rahul Gupta, argued that in its latest order on the matter on December 16, 2019, the SC ordered all vacant positions to be filled within three months. . Prior to the hearing, the Indian Union had, in December 2019, solicited nominations for four Information Commissioner posts. Although these positions were also published in January 2019, the vacant positions were not filled despite the judgment of the SC.

Center accused of making false and misleading statement about appointments

Finally, in March 2020, an existing commissioner was appointed to the post of head of the CIC and only one new information commissioner was appointed, resulting in four vacant posts, still present. The central government filed a situation report dated April 24, 2020, claiming that “the appointment process in response to the Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission was completed within three months, as was ordered this Honorable Court in its order of 16.12.2019. . “

This claim, according to the petition, was patently false and misleading, as the UOI had to fill all advertised vacancies and not simply appoint an Information Commissioner and Chief.

The affidavit indicated that 250 applications had been received in response to an advertisement for the four Information Commissioner positions. However, he said, no reason was given as to why only one vacant post was filled, instead of all four.

Six vacancies were posted in July 2020

In July 2020, the Center published a new announcement for the appointment of up to six Information Commissioners and for the post of Head of CIC, which was then due to become vacant shortly. At the end of September 2020, six positions, including that of chief, had become vacant at the CIC.

In view of the large number of vacant posts, the applicants filed a request for early registration of the case. The request read: “It is further submitted that it appears that the UOI is resorting to posting new advertisements instead of filling all advertised vacancies with the aim of unduly delaying appointments, thereby frustrating the right of individuals to information. “

Petition asks why only three vacancies were filled when there were six

In November 2020, the appointment of three new Information Commissioners and the selection of an existing Commissioner as Head were notified. Even though the advertisement had solicited nominations for up to six vacant Information Commissioners posts and a total of 355 nominations were received, only three Information Commissioners were appointed and there was no reason. was given as to the reasons why the remaining posts were left vacant. As a result, the petitioners said, three positions remained vacant at CIC.

During the hearing on July 7, it was pointed out that with regard to the appointments made in November 2020, the Leader of the Opposition (LdP) to Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who is also a member of the committee selection, said Note ‘, dated October 24, 2020, had raised concerns about the screening and selection process which did not comply with the instructions of the Supreme Court ruling of February 15, 2019.

Chowdhury accused the search committee, in violation of the SC’s instructions, of failing to make public or even share with the selection committee the basis and criteria adopted for the shortlisting of candidates. In addition, he objected to the search committee arbitrarily shortlisting someone who had not even applied for the job in response to the advertisement.

Research panel accused of ignoring SC instructions when making an appointment

The BoP also noted that the search committee did not follow the SC directive that candidates should be shortlisted from all walks of life and not just former bureaucrats.

Chowdhury’s detailed dissent stated that “since the search committee was only constituted to assist and assist the selection committee, it is the selection committee which is the statutory body for selecting candidates …”

He added that “it is extremely imperative that the search committee carry out its functions in a transparent manner. However, by failing to provide the reasons for the shortlist / rejection of the candidates and by ignoring the dictum of the Honorable Supreme Court, the search committee did not fulfill the functions for which it was constituted. Even though the search committee, headed by nothing less than the Indian Cabinet Secretary, arbitrarily and blatantly ignored all facets of transparency and established a process, one is forced to conclude that it did not apply it at all. his mind. “

“Either way,” he insisted, “the whole exercise smacks of apparent bias and favoritism and therefore makes the whole process untenable. “

LoP questioned the appointment of a ruling party supporter as IC

In addition, the LoP also raised the issue of arbitrariness in the appointment of an Information Commissioner. Surprisingly, another such recommendation from the search committee is that of Shri Uday Mahurkar, whose name has been shortlisted for the post of IC, however, the name of Shri Mahurkar is not even mentioned in the list of 355 candidates, as provided by the DoPT. , who applied for the position of CI. The fact that the search committee dropped the name of Shri Mahurkar casts very serious criticism on the integrity of the search committee. If on the one hand this makes the whole exercise of calling for candidates by way of advertisement unnecessary, on the other hand even if we had to leave the freedom of choice to the search committee, the basic principle of documentation of a reasoned and justified selection, has been totally ignored. , he loaded.

Chowdhury also demanded action in this case, saying: “In this regard, the Cabinet Secretary, as chairman of the search committee, is to explain, within a week from today, indicating the considerations for which the research committee chose to appoint Shri Uday Mahurkar – an open supporter of the ruling political party and its ideology. This question takes on greater significance in light of the fact that Shri Mahurkar, although a journalist, has a pre-established ideology of support for the ruling party (please check his articles, comments, profile on social media, etc.) and does not. had not even applied for the post of Information Commissioner. The Cabinet Secretary is to explain the special reasons and the pressures that have been brought to him for choosing the name of Shri Mahurkar in a totally inappropriate manner, which at first glance seems an apparent bias. “

No less than 36,711 calls, complaints pending at CIC

During the hearing, it was also pointed out that the order of the SC of December 16, 2019 has not been respected to date and that there are currently three vacant positions within the Central Commission of information.

“The number of pending appeals and complaints increased to 36,711 as of July 7, 2021 (according to information on the CIC website) from 33,701 on December 16, 2019. In addition, it was stated that a reading of the CIC website shows that the commission currently hears and adjudicates appeals / complaints filed with it in mid-2019, which is roughly 24 months after they were filed, ”a statement said. by the petitioners.

It was also brought before the Supreme Court that several governments of the respondent states had also failed to comply with the instructions given by the SC. For example, the Maharashtra State Information Commission was operating with only five commissioners and there was a backlog of nearly 75,000 appeals and complaints in the state as of May 31, 2021.

Likewise, the petitioners said, vacancies persist in the CISs of Karnataka, Odisha and West Bengal despite instructions to appoint an appropriate number of commissioners in connection with the outstanding issues.

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