The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre and nine state governments to file a status report on filling vacancies in the central and state information commissions. The court was hearing a petition by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj and others, who said previous orders had not been complied with.
The Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions deal with grievances related to requests filed under the Right to Information Act. They have jurisdiction over all central public authorities. Each commission has a chief information commissioner and up to 10 information commissioners.
The petitioners also said the Centre and state governments had not put the names of selected and shortlisted candidates for the posts on their websites as directed by the court.
The petitioners sought directions to the Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha governments to take immediate steps to appoint chief state information commissioners and information commissioners in a transparent manner. The Andhra Pradesh commission has been functioning without a chief information commissioner ever since it was constituted in August 2017.
The court had in December directed state governments to fill up vacancies in the state information commissions in order to reduce the pendency of RTI appeals. The court had also asked the Centre to disclose the process of appointment of the members of the Central Information Commission, and to maintain transparency in the process.
In July 2018, the top court had directed the Centre and seven states to file an affidavit giving a time frame on filling up vacancies in the central and state information commissions. It had said “strict view” would be taken if the Centre or states failed to file the affidavit within four weeks.
In February this year, the court told the government to fill existing vacancies in the state and central information commissions within six months. The court added that the process of filling the vacancies for information commissioners must begin two months before these places are filled.
The petitioners had alleged that over 23,500 appeals and complaints were pending with the Central Information Commission due to the vacancies.
The position of Chief Information Commissioner at the central body remained vacant for over a month last year until Sudhir Bhargava was appointed to the post on December 31, 2018. The Central Information Commission presently also has six information commissioners.