The Supreme Court expressed concern over vacancies at the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions (SIC), while and directed the Centre and seven states to file an affidavit within four weeks giving a time schedule for filling up the positions.
Asserting that at present there are four vacancies in the CIC and four more will be created by December this year, a bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan also asked the Centre to explain why the posts in CIC remain vacant even as the advertisement for the same was issued in 2016.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, appearing for the Centre, said an advertisement for filling up four posts in CIC have been issued as these positions were not filled up after the issuance of the 2016 advertisement.
The bench then asked her to list the reasons for not filling up the vacancies even after the 2016 advertisement in the affidavit.
Expressing concern over pendency of cases in the SICs, the bench also asked seven states — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Kerala, Odisha and Karnataka — to file an affidavit giving a time frame for filling up the vacant posts.
It said “strict view” will be taken if Centre or states default in filing the affidavit within four weeks.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, said the Centre issued an advertisement for filling up of four vacant posts in CIC on Friday itself, that is on the day of hearing of the case, which shows their approach.
By December, four more vacancies will be created, including that of the Chief Information Commissioner, who will retire, he said.
“Don’t worry, we will ensure that all the posts are filled up,” the bench said and listed the matter after four weeks, and clarified that no further time will be given to anybody for filing the affidavit.
The plea by the RTI activists Bhardwaj, Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) and Amrita Johri has claimed that over 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending with the CIC.
In the petition, they also said the SIC of Andhra Pradesh was “completely non-functional” as not a single information commissioner has been appointed to the panel.
The RTI activists said the West Bengal SIC was functioning with only two commissioners and was hearing appeals and complaints filed 10 years ago.
The plea stated that several information commissions like that of Gujarat and Maharashtra were functioning without the chief information commissioner, even though the RTI Act envisages a crucial role for this post on which the administration and superintendence of the commission is vested.
It claimed that the Centre and the state governments have “attempted to stifle” the functioning of the RTI Act by failing to do their statutory duty of ensuring appointment of commissioners in the CIC and SIC in a timely manner.