Supreme Court Urges States and Union to Address Vacancies in Information Commissions to Preserve RTI Act

Supreme Court Law Insider

LI Network

Published on: October 31, 2023 at 00:05 IST

The Supreme Court, expressed its dissatisfaction with the failure of both States and the Union to fill the vacant positions within Information Commissions nationwide.

In response, the Court has instructed the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to compile a chart detailing the number of vacancies and the number of appeals/complaints pending in all the commissions.

Furthermore, the Court has directed both the Central government and the States to promptly take the necessary steps to fill these vacancies.

The bench, consisting of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra, heard a petition concerning the numerous vacancies in the Information Commissions established under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the petitioners, pointed out that despite the 2019 judgment of the Supreme Court in Anjali Bhardwaj and Ors v. Union of India, the vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and various State Information Commissions (SICs) remained unfilled. This has resulted in a substantial backlog of cases and lengthy delays in the resolution of appeals and complaints.

Expressing the Court’s disappointment, the Chief Justice stated in the order, “The failure of the State governments to fill posts of Information Commissioners defeats the purpose of the RTI Act and affects the right of information which becomes a ‘dead letter’ if vacancies are not filled up.”

Consequently, the Supreme Court has instructed the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to compile a chart detailing the number of vacancies and the number of appeals/complaints in all the commissions. It has also directed all state governments to immediately issue notifications to initiate the process of filling these vacancies.

During the hearing, the petitioners provided details about the current status of vacancies in various commissions:

  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) is functioning without a Chief and has seven vacancies, with only four commissioners working. All four commissioners are set to retire by November 6, 2023, after which the CIC will become non-operational.
  • The Maharashtra State Information Commission (SIC) is without a Chief and is functioning with only four commissioners, despite having over 115,000 pending appeals/complaints.
  • The Jharkhand SIC has been non-operational since May 2020, with no registration or resolution of appeals/complaints for the past three years.
  • The Tripura SIC has been inactive for over two years since July 2021.
  • The Telangana SIC has been non-operational since February 2023, even though it has more than 10,000 pending appeals/complaints.
  • The Karnataka SIC is operating with five commissioners, while six positions remain vacant, with over 40,000 appeals/complaints awaiting resolution.
  • The West Bengal SIC functions with only three commissioners, and around 12,000 appeals/complaints are pending.
  • The Odisha SIC operates with three commissioners, while over 16,000 appeals/complaints await resolution.
  • The Bihar SIC is operational with only two commissioners, and over 8,000 appeals/complaints remain unresolved.

The Supreme Court will revisit the matter in three weeks. The petitioners, Anjali Bhardwaj, Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd), and Amrita Johri, were represented by Advocates Prashant Bhushan and Rahul Gupta.

Case Title: Anjali Bhardwaj & Ors v. Union of India | MA 1979/2019 in W.P.(C) No. 436/2018 PIL-W

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