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In SC next week: How RTI is being ‘stifled’ due to lack of information commissioners

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Plea says Centre & states are yet to fill vacancies of information commissioners even as 23,500 appeals remain pending in just the CIC.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court next week will hear a petition alleging that the Centre and various state governments have “stifled” the implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act by failing to ensure appointments of information commissioners.

The plea that was filed by RTI activists Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) along with Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri on 24 April will be heard by the top court when it reopens Monday after the summer break.

The plea suggests that despite huge backlogs of appeals and complaints in many information commissions across the country, information commissioners have not been appointed. This has resulted in information commissions taking months, and in some cases even years, to decide appeals.

“Currently, there are four vacancies in the Central Information Commission, even as more than 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending,” the petitioners claim.

According to the petition, the State Information Commission (SIC) of Andhra Pradesh is completely non-functional since no information commissioner has been appointed there.

Similarly, the Maharashtra SIC has four vacancies resulting in a backlog of around 40,000 cases. In Kerala, just one officer is manning the commission and has to adjudicate on more than 14,000 pending appeals and complaints.

Recounting the state of affairs in various state commissions, the plea has noted that there are six vacancies in the SIC of Karnataka even though 33,000 cases are pending there.

Odisha and Telangana are the only states where appointments have been made. There too the backlog goes up to 10,000 and 15,000 appeals respectively.

The situation in West Bengal is particularly grim with two commissioners hearing appeals/complaints that were filed almost 10 years ago, the plea points out.

“Further, several commissions like that of Gujarat, Nagaland and Maharashtra are functioning without the chief information commissioner, even though the RTI Act envisages a crucial role for the chief commissioner, with the administration and superintendence of the commission vesting with the chief,” the plea reads.

“The effective functioning of information commissions, the final adjudicators under the RTI Act, is critical for the health of the transparency regime in the country,” the activists argue in their plea.

They also claim that “lack of transparency in the appointment of information commissioners and the alleged violation of directions of the Supreme Court regarding the procedure of appointment…is undermining the institution of the information commission”.

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