The Central Information Commission (CIC) has started working in its full capacity, for the first time ever since the inception of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005, under the Narendra Modi led NDA government at the Centre.
There had been some criticism of the government for the delay in the appointments of information commissioners and chief information commissioner. However, the exercise to fill the vacancies was completed recently and the Commission now has 10 information commissioners and one chief information commissioner.
“This never happened during the UPA government, which takes credit for rolling out the RTI Act. Though the Commission was set up, no effort was made to fill all the posts of the officers. As a result, there was a large number of pending cases every time. As per my information, the Commission always had a vacancy of three to five information commissioners at a given time in the past,” said RTI activist Avinash Prabhune.
As per Section 12 of the RTI Act, the Constitution of Central/State Information Commission consists of 10 ICs and one CIC. “The action by the NDA government is a step towards achieving the objectives of the RTI Act — transparency, which is vital to functioning of the democracy, and also to check corruption and to hold governments and their instruments accountable,” said another RTI activist Gopal Prasad. As per records, the CIC has 35,793 pending cases, as on 29 February.
There was no full time CIC since September 2013. The post was managed for one year by giving additional charge to some officer till September 2014. Thereafter, it was kept vacant up to June 2015 and nobody was given even additional charge. The Centre then decided to appoint senior most information commissioner Vijay Sharma as the CIC. Sharma retired on 2 December 2015, when he turned 65. On 18 December, Radha Krishna Mathur took over as the new CIC.
The RTI activists say now that the Commission is working in its full capacity, efforts should be made to reduce the number of pending cases by faster decision-making. “Extra efforts should be made to bring down the number of pending cases. The second appeal should be disposed of in two-three months. If the officers are punished for delay in providing information, they will stop denying giving information,” said Prabhune.
The activists are also demanding that vacancies should also be filled up immediately in state information commissions. “Then only the dream of bringing about transparency in government could be realised,” most activists told this newspaper.
The newly appointed CIC Mathur is taking steps to streamline the functioning of the Commission. In a major procedural change, the CIC has done away with the mandatory provision of sending signed hard copies of appeals through post. Earlier, signed hard copies were required even in cases where the appellant approached the commission online.