In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
While the post of Chief Information Commissioner under RTI lies vacant, 553 applicants, including bureaucrats, government officials, retired defence personnel and citizens are eying to grab one of the three new posts of Information Commissioner
Despite the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promising transparency in its election manifesto, the post of the Chief Information Commissioner under the Right to Information (RTI) Act has remained vacant for nearly 50 days. In the meanwhile, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has received 553 applications for three posts of Central Information Commissioners. These applications have come from government officers, former armed personnel and citizens.
The list of applicants includes names of former DoPT Secretary- Dr Shyamal Kumar Sarkar, Dr Anuradha Verma (this name had figured in the past as a shortlisted candidate), some RTI activists, journalists and members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), says RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra. Batra had filed an RTI application to know the details of applications received.
While the Chief Information Commission (CIC) is headless since 22nd August, waiting for the President and Prime Minister to install a new person at the helm, the DoPT had in February and July 2014 sought applications for the appointment of “more information commissioners in the CIC”, although it did not mention the number of vacancies at that point of time.
Delhi-based Batra requested information regarding the total number of applications received by the DoPT for Information Commissioners (IC) posts in the CIC, total number of vacancies of ICs required and the names of applicants who have applied for the IC posts.
See the entire list of 553 names below...
In the meanwhile, RTI activists across the country are fuming over the Modi government’s lethargy in appointing a new Central Chief Information Commissioner (CCIC), who is crucial for transparency and informed citizenry. They have been questioning the use of filling up the information commissioners’ post without appointing the CCIC.
Batra, who has demanded an inspection of files which contain correspondence related to the post of the CCIC says, "The absence of 'Chief Information Commissioner' in the 'Central Information Commission' (CIC) is adversely affecting the functioning of the CIC because he is also responsible and accountable for administration and management of the Commission. Also, there is no provision in the act for "Officiating" or an “Acting Chief Information Commissioner.”
Section 12 (4) of the RTI Act, 2005 clearly says: "The general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the Central Information Commission shall vest in the Chief Information Commissioner who shall be assisted by the Information Commissioners and may exercise all such powers and do all such acts and things which may be exercised or done by the Central Information Commission autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority under this Act."
RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey and Amrita Johri have launched an online petition appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to appoint a CIC at the earliest. The petition appeals to Modi to appoint a CIC immediately.
The appeal states:
You could sign the petition here.
While the union government is hiding behind the excuse of the absence of a leader of opposition, is it that the BJP has someone in mind and are waiting for him or her to retire? Like it happened in the case of Maharashtra when the post of the state chief information commissioner (SCIC) was left vacant for eight months until Ratnakar Gaikwad retired as chief secretary and then was appointed as SCIC!
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
The HC dismissed the CPIO's petition at the admission stage itself against CIC's decision to impose a penalty of Rs25,000. This ruling is important because several times, public authorities have been found approaching courts at the drop of hat and at the cost of the tax payer
In a landmark decision, the Delhi High Court dismissed the appeal filed by Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Railway Board against the decision of Central Information Commission (CIC) to impose maximum penalty of Rs25,000. The verdict is laudable, because the Court dismissed the petition at the admission stage itself.
An official handling Right to Information (RTI) application cannot 'escape' his responsibility of answering queries by simply forwarding the application to other officials, the High Court ruled while upholding the penalty imposed by the CIC.
I had filed an appeal under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, before the CIC after the CPIO of Railway Board repeatedly denied providing information. The Commission held multiple hearings and in an exhaustive, reasoned order, directed the CPIO to provide information as well as imposed penalty on him on 11 March, 2013. The CPIO, knowing very well that there is no provision in RTI Act, 2005 to review order, approached the CIC to review its own order. The review was denied by CIC vide its letter dated 11 April 2014.
The CPIO of Railway Board then approached Delhi High Court, which upheld the decision of CIC on 12 September 2014. Few important legal points are settled by this decision of Delhi High Court:
(a) CIC does not have powers to review its own decisions.
(b) Section 6(3) of the RTI Act cannot be read to mean that the responsibility of a CPIO is only limited to forwarding the applications to different departments or offices.
Forwarding an application by a public authority to another public authority is not the same as a Public Information Officer (PIO) of a public authority arranging or sourcing information from within its own organisation. The PIO cannot escape his responsibility to provide information by simply stating that the queries were forwarded to other officials.
(c) It is not necessary that the penalty be imposed by the CIC only while considering an appeal; penalty can also be imposed by the CIC if on inquiry made pursuant to a complaint, it is found that a CPIO has not furnished the information within stipulated time or has knowingly given incorrect or incomplete information.
According to the section 6(3) of RTI Act, if a CPIO receives an application, the subject matter of which is more closely related to another public authority, he must transfer the application or the portion of it to the concerned authority within five days of receiving the application.
However, when the matter is concerning their own public authority, CPIOs can seek help of fellow officers under section 5(4) of the RTI Act. The law mandates the officer, whose assistance has been sought by the CPIO, to render all the assistance.
It is unfortunate that public authorities are openly flouting the decisions of Central Information Commission and State Information or approaching the courts at drop of hat at the cost of tax payer. It has been revealed through RTI that some public authorities have up to Rs5 lakh per hearing to some counsels in RTI matters.
(Mumbai-based Girish Mittal is an RTI activist)