Four of the seven functioning Central Information Commissioners are retiring this month, which will reduce the strength of the Central Information Commission to just three on December 1 as opposed to the sanctioned strength of 11. However, although the PMO was alerted about the vacancies way back in June, no appointment so far has been made. Despite advertising for the vacant posts and calling for applications in advance, none of the posts have been filled by the government.
The Modi government has been accused of weakening and undermining institutions. The delay in the appointment of information commissioners seems to be another attempt to stifle the Commission and reduce the efficacy of the Right to Information Act.
The CIC, with a sanctioned strength of 11, is functioning with just seven commissioners, including the Chief Information Commissioner, Radha Krishna Mathur. All of them, barring Dr Sridhar Acharyulu, happen to be former IAS or IPS officers. Activists have long accused the Government of packing the Commission with police officers and bureaucrats who are more used to hide information from people rather than facilitate transparency.
The situation will worsen with Mathur and two of his colleagues due to retire by November 24 and another Commissioner’s term coming to an end on December 1. Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioner hold office for a term of 5 years or till he or she attains the age of 65 years.
RK Mathur is due to retire on November 24. Whereas, information commissioners Yashovardhan Azad and M Sridhar Acharyulu on November 21 and Amitava Bhattacharya on December 1, 2018.
In such a situation, CIC panel would be left with just three information commissioners, Sudhir Bhargava, Bimal Julka and Divya Prakash Sinha.
Activist Lokesh Batra, who has filed numerous RTIs on the appointment process, said, “RTI replies have shown that 225 people have applied for two posts. How has the government failed to fill these posts? There is no dearth of people”
The Central government has not filled any vacant information commissioner posts in the CIC since 2016. Also, it has yet to respond to the only letter that had been sent by the Commission on the issue in May, 2018.
In July 2018, the Supreme Court had directed the central government to inform as to by when it would be filling the posts of the vacant information commissioners. SC had issued the directions on a petition filed by RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Lokesh Batra and Amrita Johri. The court urged it to give directions to ensure that appointments of information commissioners were made in a timely and transparent manner.
On the day of the hearing in court, the central government had in a hurry issued an advertisement for filling up the vacancies in the CIC. But there was no mention about the number of posts it intended to fill up.
Anjali Bhardwaj of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) activists has written to PM Narendra Modi mentioning the issue.
“We had written to the PM in June last year. We followed it up with an (application under) the RTI (Act) on what action was taken. Our RTI was converted into a grievance and the response that we received was simply ‘matter is under consideration’. Every query on appointments is sent in a bureaucratic spin,” she said.
Lokesh Batra, an activist who has filed numerous RTIs on the appointment process, said, “RTI replies have shown that 225 people have applied for two posts. How has the government failed to fill these posts? There is no dearth of people.”