Relief at RTI watchdog will be short lived

New chief information commissioner will retire in six months and that is not encouraging

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | June 10, 2015


#cic   #chief information   #rti   #right to information   #vijai Sharma  


After nine months of wait the sense of relief is going to last just for six months. This is the story of new central information commissioner, whose functions have a bearing on the transparency and governance issues of the administration.

The Modi government appointed Vijai Sharma as the new chief information commissioner, after a vacuum at the top for over nine months. But the appointment that came with a lengthy process, will be for less than six months as Sharma is set to retire on December 1. The CIC’s tenure is for a term of five years or till he attains the age of 65 years.

Sharma has been the senior most information commissioner since 2012. His appointment should have made right to information (RTI) activist happy. But they are not amused. They are asking why the government delayed the process by advertising the post of CIC, if they had to anyway appoint him.

THE BACKLOG



Shailesh Gandhi, Mumbai-based RTI activist and a former information commissioner at CIC says there was no need for the government to keep the post vacant for such a long time. It is the responsibility of the government to keep institutions working and it should start working immediately to find the new commissioner, Gandhi said.

“This just reflects the casual attitude of the government towards the RTI. They have appointed the senior most information commissioner but I do not think it is a good idea.”

When he was at the commission he had opposed the practice of appointing the senior most IC as the chief. “The process of appointing ICs is not transparent enough. They should not be elevated based on their seniority.” He says unless systematic changes take place at the institution, it will keep working like this.

Also, the CIC should have reallocated the portfolios in absence of chief information commissioner. “Some 15,000 cases were pending and we had to wait for Delhi high courts directive to reallocate the portfolio. These commissioners are paid equivalent to that of supreme court judges. They should not wait for the directives from the court to perform.”

Delhi based RTI activist Subhash Agrawal says the union government should start the process of selecting new incumbent for the post immediately. He also suggests of filling other vacancies at CIC so that it can function with its full strength of 11 commissioners including the chief.

He suggests the commission to adopt a system through which commissioners at CIC become chief information commissioner according to seniority. “The short-term of chief commissioners are liability on the system. They devote less time on chair and more time in availing leave-travel-concession (LTC), or attending conferences.”

FORMER ICs & THEIR TENURE


COMMISSIONER

TENURE

Wajahat Habibullah

October 2005 to September 2010

AN Tiwari

September 30, 2010   to December 18, 2010  

Satyananda Mishra

December 19, 2010 to September 4, 2013

Deepak Sandhu

September 5, 2013   to December 18, 2013  

Sushma Singh

December 19, 2013 to May 21, 2014

Rajiv Mathur

May 22, 2014   to August 22, 2014  


The chief information commissioner has a tenure of five years or till he attains the age of 65 years. So far only Wajahat Habibullah, the first commissioner, has served the full term from October 2005 to September 2010.

The headless commission has resulted in huge pendency of appeals and complaints even as the RTI Act struggles to maintain credibility issues in its tenth year of existence.

The post of chief information commissioner at the CIC has been vacant since August 22, 2014 after the tenure of the sixth chief information commissioner, Rajiv Mathur, ended.

In October 2014, the government advertised for the post of commissioner, and over 200 applications, including all seven ICs, were received. The DoPT had told the Delhi high court that it has shortlisted candidate and was waiting vigilance clearance.

One of the reasons for the delay in appointment of the commissioner was that there was no recognised leader of opposition (LoP), who is an essential member of the selection committee. The selection committee consists of prime minister, leader of opposition and a union cabinet minister. But in case the LoP is not recognised, the law allows authorising the leader of the single largest opposition party in the parliament.

The issue became politically surcharge after Congress president Sonia Gandhi accused the Modi government of undermining the post by keeping it vacant. The agreement on his name came after meetings between prime minister Narendra Modi and leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge in two different committees.

The delay in the appointment of the chief information commissioner has resulted in huge backlog of complaints and pending cases related to departments like the president’s and vice president, PMO, parliament, supreme court and high courts, election commission, cabinet secretariat, CAG, UPSC, CBI, CVC, DoPT and several important central ministries.

Gandhi adds that the pendency in number of cases is also because of non- functioning of information commissioners. “Seven commissioners have disposed less number of cases than what six commissioners did in 2011. So even if we appoint 11 commissioners but they are not disposing adequate number of cases, the pendency will keep increasing.”

 

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