State Information Commission (SIC)

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State Information Commission (SIC)
State Information Commission (SIC)

The State Information Commission (SIC), a statutory body in India, stands at the forefront of the movement towards a more open and responsive administration in India. Entrusted with the crucial responsibility of upholding the Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005, it stands as a beacon of transparency and accountability in the governance framework of India. This article of NEXT IAS aims to study in detail the State Information Commission (SIC), including its composition, powers, functions, challenges faced by it, and other related aspects.

  • The State Information Commission (SIC) is a statutory body in India, established under the provisions of the Right to Information Act (2005).
    • Thus, it is not a constitutional body.
  • It functions as the overseer for implementing the RTI Act in the organizations of the concerned State Government.
    • It looks into the complaints made to it and decides the appeals regarding matters related to the RTI Act and pertaining to the public offices under the concerned State Government.
  • The State Information Commission consists of a State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) and not more than ten State Information Commissioners (SIC).
  • They are appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of a Committee consisting of:
    • The Chief Minister as the Chairperson,
    • The Leader of the Opposition in the State Legislative Assembly, and
    • A State Cabinet Minister nominated by the Chief Minister.
  • The State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners should be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in:
    • Law,
    • Science and Technology,
    • Social service,
    • Management,
    • Journalism,
    • Mass media,
    • Administration and governance.
  • They should NOT be
    • A Member of Parliament or Member of the Legislature of any State or Union Territory.
    • Holding any other office of profit
    • Connected with any political party
    • Carrying on any business or pursuing any profession.
  • The State Chief Information Commissioner and a State Information Commissioner shall hold office for such term as prescribed by the Central Government or until they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • The State Chief Information Commissioner as well as State Information Commissioner are not eligible for reappointment.
    • The State Information Commissioner is eligible for appointment as State Chief Information Commissioner for a tenure such that the total tenure including his/her term as Information Commissioner does not exceed five years.
  • The Governor can remove the State Chief Information Commissioner or any State Information Commissioner from the office if he/she:
    • Is adjudged insolvent,
    • Has been convicted of an offense, which in the opinion of the Governor, involves moral turpitude,
    • Engages, during his term of office, in any paid employment outside the duties of his office,
    • Is, in the opinion of the Governor, unfit to continue in office due to infirmity of mind or body,
    • Has acquired such financial or other interest as is likely to affect prejudicially his official functions.
  • In addition to the above circumstances, the Governor can also remove the State Chief Information Commissioner or any State Information Commissioner on the grounds of proved misbehavior or incapacity.
    • However, in such cases, the Governor has to refer the matter to the Supreme Court for an enquiry.
    • If the Supreme Court, after the enquiry, upholds the cause of removal and advises so, then the Governor can remove him.
  • The salary, allowances, and other service conditions of the State Chief Information Commissioner and a State Information Commissioner shall be such as prescribed by the Central Government.
  • Their salary and service conditions cannot be varied to their disadvantage during the service.
  • The Commission is required to receive and inquire into a complaint from any person:
    • Who has not been able to submit an information request because of the non-appointment of a Public Information Officer,
    • Who has been refused information that was requested,
    • Who has not received a response to his information request within the specified time limits,
    • Who thinks the fees charged are unreasonable,
    • Who thinks the information given is incomplete, misleading, or false, and
    • Any other matter relating to obtaining information.
  • The Commission submits an annual report to the State Government on the implementation of the provisions of this Act.
    • The State Government places this report before the State Legislature.
  • The Commission can suo-moto order an enquiry into any matter if there are reasonable grounds.
  • While inquiring, the Commission has the powers of a Civil Court in respect of the following matters:
    • summoning and enforcing the attendance of persons and compelling them to give oral or written evidence on oath and to produce documents or things,
    • requiring the discovery and inspection of documents,
    • receiving evidence on affidavit,
    • requisitioning any public record from any court or office,
    • issuing summons for examination of witnesses or documents, and
    • any other matter which may be prescribed.
  • During the inquiry of a complaint, the Commission may examine any record that is under the control of the public authority and no such record may be withheld from it on any grounds.
    • In other words, all public records must be given to the Commission during inquiry for examination.
  • The Commission has the power to secure compliance of its decisions from the public authority. This includes:
    • providing access to information in a particular form,
    • directing the public authority to appoint a Public Information Officer where none exists,
    • publishing information or categories of information,
    • making necessary changes to the practices relating to management, maintenance and destruction of records,
    • enhancing training provision for officials on the right to information,
    • seeking an annual report from the public authority on compliance with this Act,
    • requiring the public authority to compensate for any loss or other detriment suffered by the applicant,
    • imposing penalties under this Act, and
    • rejecting the application.
  • When a public authority does not conform to the provisions of this Act, the Commission may recommend (to the authority) steps that ought to be taken to promote such conformity.
About the RTI Act of 2005

– The Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005 gives Indian citizens the legal right to access information held by government bodies and public authorities, subject to certain exceptions and limitations.
– It aims to promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities.
– It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act of 2002.
– It seeks to implement the Right To Information, contained in the fundamental right of Freedom of Speech and Expression (Article 19).

Objectives of the RTI Act of 2005

1. To empower citizens to question and seek information from the government.
2. To promote transparency and accountability in the working of the government.
3. To contain corruption in the government.
4. To make the citizens better-informed who would keep necessary vigil about the functioning of the government machinery.

Issues in the implementation of the RTI Act of 2005

– Non-compliance in proactive disclosure of information by some public authorities.
– The hostile attitude of Public Information Officers (PIOs) towards citizens seeking information and misinterpreting provisions of the RTI Act to withhold information.
– There is ambiguity regarding what constitutes public interest and how it balances with the Right to Privacy.
– Lack of political will and inadequate infrastructure for processing information requests.
– Citizens may face rejections of their information requests, especially on matters of public importance.
– RTI activists and applicants may face threats and harassment as a means to suppress their efforts to uncover information and hold authorities accountable.
The Right to Information (Amendment) Act of 2019 has brought significant changes to the tenure, salary, and service conditions of the Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) and Information Commissioners (SICs) at both central and state levels in India.

The changes w.r.t. State Information Commission are listed below:

Tenure of Office – The Amendment empowered the Central Government to determine the term of office for the State Chief Information Commissioner and a State Information Commissioner.
a. Earlier, their term was fixed for 5 years.
Salary and Service Conditions – The Amendment empowered the Central Government to determine the salary, allowances, and other service conditions for the State Chief Information Commissioner and a State Information Commissioner.
a. Earlier, the salary, allowances, and other service conditions of the State Chief Information Commissioner were similar to those of an Election Commissioner and that of a State Information Commissioner were similar to those of the Chief Secretary of the State Government.
Removal of Deductions in Salary – The Amendment removed the provisions for deductions in the salary of the State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioner due to pension or retirement benefits received from previous government service.

Various issues plaguing the working of the State Information Commission (SIC) are as follows:

  • Lack of Transparency in the Selection Process – The criteria for selecting Commissioners and their working methods lack transparency, leading to concerns about the impartiality and effectiveness of the commissions. The dominance of former bureaucrats in appointments raises questions about their diversity and competency.
  • Vacancy Issues – Delay in filling vacancies leads to a backlog of cases, impacting the efficiency of the commissions and causing delays in addressing appeals and complaints.
  • Lack of Capacity Building – Personnel appointed as State Public Information Officers (SPIOs) often lack sufficient knowledge of the RTI Act, resulting in delays and inefficiencies in processing applications and providing responses to applicants.
  • Poor Record Management Practices – Inadequate record management systems and procedures result in delays in processing RTI applications, hindering timely access to information.
  • Delay in Disposal of Appeals and Complaints – While the RTI Act mandates time limits for disposing of first appeals, there are no specific time limits for disposing of second appeals, leading to delays and a backlog of cases within the commissions.
  • Poor Quality of Information Provided – SPIOs may provide inadequate or poor-quality information to applicants, leading to dissatisfaction among information seekers and hindering the transparency objectives of the RTI Act.
  • Low Public Awareness – There is a lack of awareness about the RTI Act, particularly among marginalized communities and lower socioeconomic strata, limiting the potential of the legislation to empower citizens and promote transparency in governance.
  • Proactive Disclosure of Information – Acknowledging the significance of an informed public is essential for ensuring effective governance. This requires that proactive disclosure of information should be the norm and secrecy should be the exception.
  • Filling Vacancies – The Supreme Court’s directions to fill vacancies in Information Commissions transparently and promptly will help ensure the effective functioning of the CIC.
  • Digitization and Record Management – Urgent digitization of records and proper management of records are essential for facilitating easy access to information.
  • Raise Awareness – Mass awareness campaigns and education initiatives are needed to raise awareness about the RTI Act as well as the CIC.
  • Additional Measures – Steps should be taken towards ensuring the protection of whistleblowers, decentralizing power, and ensuring accountability at all levels of governance. All these will complement the functioning of the CIC and help improve overall governance.

The State Information Commission (SIC) stands as a beacon of hope for strengthening democracy and promoting good governance in India. By ensuring that the Right to Information is not just a statutory right but a reality for the common citizen, the SIC plays a crucial role in fostering a culture of transparency and accountability. The necessary steps should be taken to make its working more effective.

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