NEW DELHI: The government had initiated the controversial move to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act two years ago, it has revealed in response to a pointed query by the Supreme Court on why it had not made appointments despite advertising for filling up vacancies in 2016.
Opposition parties and RTI activists were taken by surprise when the government listed the RTI Act amendment Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament without holding any consultations. However, with the government’s reply to the apex court it has now emerged that the government had kept all appointments to the Central Information Commission (CIC) in abeyance as it wanted to push the amendments first.
In its affidavit, the government said, “It is submitted that the Government of India had issued advertisement dated 02.09.2016 in the leading newspapers (two each English and Hindi) and also uploaded on the DoPT’s (Department of Personnel and Training’s) website inviting applications for filling up of posts of information commissioners. A process for amendment of the Right to Information Act 2005 was also initiated to incorporate express/ specific enabling provisions for determining the term of office, salaries and allowances payable to and other terms and conditions of service of the chief information commissioner and the information commissioners of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and chief state information commissioners and state information commissioners. The aforesaid selection process was not pursued pending the outcome of the process for amendment of the Act.”
The Supreme Court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Amrita Johri and Lokesh Batra seeking judicial intervention to straighten out appointment process in information commissions. At present, there are four vacancies in CIC, with the first vacancy occurring 18 months ago in December 2016. Two more information commissioners, including chief RK Mathur, will retire in November. However, no appointments have been made.
After the PIL was filed in Supreme Court and hearings started taking place, the government called for applications once again through advertisements on July 27, 2018. However, the advertisement did not mention how many posts would be filled and what the tenure of the commissioners would be. In its affidavit, the government has now clarified that it intends to fill only four posts and not the vacancies arising later in November. “Presently there are four vacant posts of information commissioners in CIC that are under the purview of the advertisement for now. Suitable decision, in respect of the vacancies likely to arise in the future in CIC, would be taken subsequently according to the requirement/exigencies at the time,” the affidavit said.
The government’s stand has sparked concern among RTI activists. Bhardwaj told ET, “For the last four years, we have had to take the judicial route every time any vacancy arose in CIC. The government has submitted that it wants to fill only four vacancies and not the two that would arise in less than two months. This is worrying as it seems that the government is working towards a three or fourmember commission. This would overburden CIC and gradually mean the death of RTI.”