New Delhi: Delhi High Court today asked the Centre to expedite the process appointment of Chief Information Commissioner and three Information Commissioners at CIC and inform it by May 11 about the progress as the vacancies have led to massive backlog of cases.
A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Deepa Sharma said the court will monitor the progress made by Department of Personnel and Training with regard to filling the vacancies in Central Information Commission (CIC) after Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain sought 12 weeks' time to finalise the appointments while filing an affidavit.
The bench was of the the view that if it closed the matter considering the affidavit filed by Centre, the same might not be done.
“ASG submitted that expeditious steps will be taken to fill up the posts. It is necessary for the court to monitor steps being taken to fill up the posts.
“Let the matter be listed for May 11, 2015, by which date the DoPT shall file the progress report, it has made in terms of the affidavit filed today,” the bench said. It also said that until the court 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,” the bench said.
The Centre today filed the affidavit after the court yesterday directed them to take instruction 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).
Meanwhile, the ASG informed the court today that they have received 203 applications for the post of Chief Information Commissoner (Chief IC) and 535 for ICs. “All these applications need to be sent before the search committee which will further put this before the selection committee after which CBI and IB will have to give vigilance clearance,” the ASG said, adding that for all this process “we need minimum three months”.
The ASG further said, “We are going to appoint very important persons so we cannot go in a casual manner.” He also said that the petition needs to be dismissed as the government machineries are already working on appointments of the Chief IC and ICs.
Yesterday, the court had sought Centre's response on the plea over filling up of vacant positions in CIC, saying it cannot keep major positions vacant for a long time. The court had noted that the pendency at “CIC has shot up to a whopping 37,650 appeals/complaints” and said government should not take much time in appointing a Chief IC and ICs. 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.
Bhushan had contended in the court that a direction be issued to the concerned authorities for “immediate filling of all posts of CIC and ICs”, saying that the Chief IC is the master of the roster for distribution of work amongst the ICs.
“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 said.