The court has now warned them of strict action over non-compliance with its directives
There is a long trail of pending cases in the commissions both at the central and state levels. There is a long trail of pending cases in the commissions both at the central and state levels, Credit: PTI Photo
The Supreme Court’s unhappiness over the failure of several states, including Karnataka, to fill up the vacancies in the state information commissions is not new. It has in the past pulled up both the Centre and states for their failure in this regard. The court made critical remarks and issued notices to them in 2018; in 2019, it directed them to fill the vacancies in time. It also told them to appoint eminent persons from various fields as commissioners, as they have tended to appoint only former bureaucrats in the commission. Later in 2019, the court again told them to make the appointments within a period of one month to six months and in a transparent manner. The court has now warned them of strict action over non-compliance with its directives. It has also sought status reports over the pendency of cases in the information commissions.
There is a long trail of pending cases in the commissions both at the central and state levels. More than two lakh cases were pending a few months ago and the situation would have only become worse now. In Karnataka, only seven information commissioners are working, against a sanctioned capacity of 10. The commission also does not have enough support staff and infrastructure. There are vacancies in other states and at the Centre. Governments have been lackadaisical in appointing information commissioners. This reluctance to fill up the vacancies despite repeated directives from the top court can only be seen as part of a persistent negative attitude they have adopted towards citizens’ right to information (RTI). This attitude has been expressed in various ways. Ministers have complained that the RTI has constrained officers from taking decisions or that it is being misused.
Information commissions have also been weakened by the changes in law, which reduced the commissioners’ tenure and made it possible to change their terms of service, in effect making them beholden to governments. It has also been observed that penalties imposed on government officials for violation of the RTI law are fewer now. There have also been attempts to make filing petitions for information more difficult by increasing the fee and making the process more cumbersome. Governments, politicians and officials have not been comfortable with the RTI law and have always tried to undermine it. The delay in the appointment of commissioners is part of that obstructive mindset. The RTI law has empowered citizens like few other legislations have. The court should ensure that the citizens are not robbed of their power and that the governments fill up the vacancies in the commissions at the earliest.