The Supreme Court on Friday said selection of information officers for the CIC and SICs should include people of eminence from various fields and not be limited to bureaucrats, a "bias" which is "writ large" in the current selection process.
It said Parliament intended persons of eminence in public life be taken as Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) as well Information Commissioners but a "strange phenomenon is happening", that those persons who have been selected belong to only one category which is public service.
It said that to bring transparency in selection of ICs, states should adopt the process adopted by the Centre in which it uploads on the website the names of the Search Committee, the names of the candidates who have been shortlisted as well as the criteria which is followed for selection.
A bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer said that the Right to Information Act is enacted not only to sub-serve and ensure freedom of speech but on proper implementation, "it has the potential to bring about good governance which is an integral part of any vibrant democracy".
"Many persons who fit in the aforesaid criteria have been applying for these posts. However, a strange phenomenon which we observe is that all those persons who have been selected belong to only one category, namely, public service, i.e., they are the government employees," it said.
The bench said it is difficult to fathom that persons belonging to only one category are always found to be more competent and more suitable than persons belonging to other categories.
"In fact, even the Search Committee which short-lists the persons consist of bureaucrats only. For these reasons, official bias in favour of its own class is writ large in the selection process", it said.
The court said that attaining good governance is also one of the visions of the Constitution.
"We also expect that Information Commissioners are appointed from other streams, as mentioned in the Act and the selection is not limited only to the Government employee/ ex-government employee," the bench said.
The top court directed the Centre and eight states -- West Bengal, Orissa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Nagaland, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karanataka -- to fill up the vacancies without any delay within a period of one month to six months.
"For this purpose, it would be apposite that the process for filling up of a particular vacancy is initiated 1 to 2 months before the date on which the vacancy is likely to occur so that there is not much time lag between the occurrence of vacancy and filling up of the said vacancy," it said.
Dealing with transparency in the selection process, the bench said, "Insofar as transparency in appointment of Information Commissioners is concerned, pursuant to the directions given by this Court, the Central Government is now placing all necessary information including issuance of the advertisement, receipt and applications, particulars of the applicants, composition of Selection Committee etc. on the website. All States shall also follow this system".
The bench said that as per the RTI Act, the appointment of information commissioners and CIC is done on the same terms and conditions as applicable to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioner but it would be appropriate if the terms and conditions are made public.
"It would also be appropriate if the said terms and conditions on which such appointments are to be made are specifically stipulated in the advertisement and put on website as well," it said.
The court further added that it would also be appropriate for the Search Committee to make the criteria for shortlisting the candidates public, so that it is ensured that shortlisting is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria.
"The right to information, therefore, is not only a constitutional right of the citizens but there is now a legislation in the form of RTI Act which provides a legal regime for people to exercise their fundamental right to information and to access information from public authorities," the bench said.
With regard to West Bengal, the bench suggested that at least three more posts for IC should be created to clear the pendency of cases and the decision in this behalf should be taken by the state government within one month and the newly created posts shall be filled up within six months thereafter.
It asked Andhra Pradesh to fill up the post of state chief information commissioner and information commissioner at the earliest and in any case within three months from the date of the verdict.
Similar directions for filling up the existing vacancies in SICs within a period six months were issued by the apex court for Telangana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka.