Central Information Commission

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    In News

    Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) has asked the Union Government to give details about the pendency of cases in the information panel.

    About the Issue

    • The SC directed the Central government to place on record the latest information on the appointment of Information Commissioners (ICs), vacancies and pendency of cases in the Central Information Commission (CIC), the apex adjudicatory body for disputes under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
    • It was brought to the light that “party acolytes” and bureaucrats have been shortlisted and appointed to the CIC in an opaque manner despite a specific direction from the court in 2019 that the appointment process should be transparent and has to be put in the public domain.

    About Central Information Commission

    • It is a statutory body constituted under Section 12 of RTI Act, with effect from October 2005.
    • Composition: It consists of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and such number of Commissioners not exceeding 10 as may be deemed necessary.
    • Selection Committee for Appointment: It is there for appointments, which are done under the hand and seal of the President of India. It consists of:
      • Prime Minister, who shall be the Chairperson of the committee.
      • Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
      • Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
    • Jurisdiction: It extends over all Central Public Authorities.
    • Power and Functions: The Commission has certain powers and functions mentioned in Sections 18, 19, 20 and 25 of the RTI Act, 2005 and broadly relate to
      • Adjudication in the second appeal for giving information.
      • Direction for record keeping, suo motu disclosures receiving and enquiring into a complaint on inability to file RTI, etc.
      • Imposition of penalties.
      • Monitoring and Reporting including preparation of an Annual Report
    • The decisions of the Commission are final and binding.
    • Tenure and Salaries of CIC
      • CIC shall hold office for a term of five years from the date on which he/she enters upon the office.
      • Shall not be eligible for reappointment.
      • Salaries and allowances payable to and other terms and conditions of service of the CIC shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).
    • Tenure and Salaries of IC
      • Each IC shall on vacating his office be eligible for appointment as the CIC.
        • His/her term of office shall not be more than five years in aggregate as the IC and the CIC.
      • Salaries and allowances payable to and other terms and conditions of service of an IC shall be the same as that of an Election Commissioner (EC).

    Benefits

    • Citizen empowerment as their participation will increase in knowing about working.
    • Better functioning of the Government.
    • More accessibility to getting information with ease.
    • Public records will be maintained efficiently.
    • Efficiency of the Government’s functioning will be known.
    • Best example of Rights Approach.

    Challenges

    • Lack of transparency: Its appointment method and way of working, both are very opaque in manner.
    • Reduced Capacity and Lack of timely appointments: Government is not appointing CICs and ICs wherever there is vacancy. Capacity of 10 is nowhere fulfilled. Government is ignoring the filling up of vacancies as it will add to the financial burden.
    • No adequate authority: The Act did not give adequate authority to the ICs to enforce their decisions.
    • Inadequate Trained PIOs and First Appellate authority: This results in breaking the 30 day timeline for providing information as due to lack of proper training PIOs are not able to provide the information in time bound manner
    • Impact of Covid-19: During the pandemic, most of the CICs offices were not working. Most even do not have their websites working.
    • No punishments: Government officials do not face any penalty for lack of their duty or improper behavior.
    • Non-availability of User Guides for RTI implementation for information seekers: Under Section 26 of the RTI Act, the appropriate Government is expected to publish and distribute user guides (within eighteen months of enactment of the Act) for information seekers.
      • However, it was highlighted in the information provider survey that Nodal Departments have not published these guides.
    • Low awareness levels: People are not much aware about RTI, especially the lower strata of society. They are not able to enjoy their right of asking for information for their own betterment.
      • An awareness survey was held and as per the survey it was revealed that only 15 per cent of the respondents were aware of the RTI Act.
      • It was further observed that awareness level is low among the disadvantaged communities such as women, rural population, OBC/SC/ST categories, etc.
    • Government’s Plan:
      • The Government is planning to do away with the equal footing of CIC and CEC, which only suggests that fair elections are more important than transparency of working.
      • The Government is also planning to reduce the 5 year tenure period to one which will majorly impact the independent nature of the institution.

    Way Forward

    • Timely appointment is the need of the hour.
    • Speedy disposal of pending cases but this comes with increasing the capacity of the commissions so that their working can be made more efficient.
    • The filing process should be digitised as the manual filing was affected during the pandemic.
    • Cases of Right to Life and Liberty should be dealt with first hand and on an urgent basis.
    • Protection should be given to the whistleblowers so that this Act and Body could come to its proper use.
    • The report of the second Administrative Reforms Commission titled, “Right to Information: Master Key to Good Governance” recommends that the Official Secrets Act, 1923, should be repealed, as it is incongruous with the regime of transparency in a democratic society. This recommendation should be adhered to.

    Source: TH