The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre and state governments to file status reports complying with its 2019 judgement that ordered filling up of vacant positions in information commissions within a deadline, reported PTI. The court has also directed the governments to list the steps they have taken to fill up the vacancies.
On 15 February, 2019, the top court had directed the Centre and states to fill up the vacancies in the state and central information commissions within six months.
On Wednesday, the court was hearing a petition by activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Amrita Johri and Commodore (Retired) Lokesh K Batra on the implementation of the Supreme Court’s 2019 verdict.
A bench led by Justice S Abdul Nazeer gave the central and state governments four weeks to file the reports with details of the vacancies. “Petitioner is also granted the liberty to file an affidavit,” the court said, according to Live Law.
During the hearing, lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners, cited the 2019 verdict saying that directions were given then to fill up the vacancies in time. Bhushan also noted the Supreme Court’s criticism in 2019 of the practice of selecting bureaucrats to either head commissions or be a part of the selection committee.
The petitioner’s counsel noted that the names of the candidates or the selection criteria had not been placed on record. “More than 300 people applied, but they shortlisted seven people,” Bhushan said, according to Live Law. “What was the criteria, what were the details, nothing is on record.”
Bhushan also contended that due to the vacancies, the pendency of cases has been rising, obstructing the purpose of the Right to Information Act.
However, Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, representing the Centre, said the Central Information Commission had complied with the Supreme Court’s 2019 order and had made appointments in March 2020. The Union government had filed an affidavit in the matter on April 24, 2020.
“The maximum strength is up to 10 members,” Divan said. “That does not mean that there are vacancies. Right now, we have seven members. If they [petitioners] are aggrieved by subsequent developments or our affidavit, they should say so on affidavit.”
Under the Right to Information Act, 2005, the members of the Central Information Commission are selected by the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition, and a Union cabinet minister nominated by the prime minister. Members of the state information commissions are selected by the chief minister, leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly and one cabinet minister nominated by the chief minister.
The information commissions take up complaints and appeals by citizens who have been refused access to information, or who are not satisfied with the information they have received from public authorities.