The CIC, which has remained headless for over 10 months, may soon have a new chief with the Centre informing the Delhi High Court that candidates for the posts of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners have been shortlisted and their vigilance clearance was awaited.
“… In continuation of earlier meetings held on January 16, 2015 and February 6, 2015, the search committee again met on April 27, 2015 and short listed applicants for the post(s) of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (IC).”
“Vigilance clearance from the respective cadre controlling authority in respect of the shortlisted serving officers and inputs from the Intelligence Bureau in respect of retired officers has been sought vide communications dated May 5, 2015 and May 2, 2015, respectively,” the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) told the court.
The submission has been made by DoPT in its affidavit filed in response to the court’s direction to the government to expedite the appointment process and inform it about the progress as the vacancies in Central Information Commission have led to a massive backlog of cases.
Last week, Congress President Sonia Gandhi attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue of vacant posts of CIC and Information Commissioners saying this has resulted in the backlog of 39,000 cases.
DoPT in its affidavit, filed through central government standing counsel Jasmeet Singh, has also said, “The selection would, thereafter, be made by the selection committee headed by the Prime Minister as per the RTI Act, 2005.
“The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be appointed by the President on the recommendations of the selection committee.”
The court on April 9 had said it would monitor the progress made by DoPT regarding filling the vacancies after Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain sought 12 weeks’ time to finalise the appointments.
The court was also of the view that until it issues any direction, some important posts remain vacant for long.
“We will not close the writ petition. We want to monitor this personally. As we close it (petition), they (government) might not do it. So we will take up the matter after four weeks. You please tell us by that time, what progress you made in filling up the posts,” it had asked.
The direction had come on a PIL filed by RTI activists R K Jain, Lokesh K Batra and Subhash Chandra Agarwal alleging that no action has been taken on the issue despite two “distress” letters written by Central Information Commission to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The PIL filed through lawyers Prashant Bhushan and Pranav Sachdeva sought filling up of posts of Chief IC and subordinate staff in a time-bound frame.
“Due to non-appointment of the Chief IC since August 23, 2014, the appeals and complaints relating to the important authorities including the CVC, CBI, President’s Secretariat, PMO, Cabinet Secretariat, Supreme Court and High Courts, Lok Sabha, CAG, DOPT, UPSC and Staff Selection Commission are not being heard and there is a vacuum of jurisdiction at CIC for more than 100 authorities/departments, as even no officiating arrangements for CIC, have been made.”
“The RTI Act prescribed statutory time lines of 30 days for providing the information from the date of application and disposal of first appeal within maximum period of 45 days,” the plea said.
It stated that these time-lines were being defeated due to the non-appointment to these positions and the Commission was now taking nearly 2-3 years’ time in hearing complaints.
“The effective functioning of adjudicators under the RTI Act — the IC — is critical for the health of the transparency regime in the country. It is therefore a matter of grave concern that the post of the Chief IC in the CIC has been lying vacant since August 23, 2014. It is for the first time since the constitution of the CIC in 2005, the Commission is headless,” the plea has said.