Why are Chief Information Commissioner/Information Commissioner always appointed from Public Service only? Consider other streams too: SC to Centre

Supreme Court: The bench of Dr. AK Sikri and SA Nazeer, JJ has given extensive directions in a PIL seeking direction to the Central Government to fill up the vacancies for the appointment of Commissioners in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the State Government in respect of State Information Commissions (SICs), in a timely manner in accordance with the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Who can be appointed as the Chief Information Commissioner/Information Commissioner:

Though the Parliament has intended that persons of eminence in public life should be taken as Chief Information Commissioner as well Information Commissioners, the Bench noticed a strange phenomenon that all those persons who have been selected belong to only one category, namely, public service, i.e., they are the government employees. Hence, it said:

“It is difficult to fathom that persons belonging to one category only are always be found to be more competent and more suitable than persons belonging to other categories. In fact, even the Search Committee which short-lists the persons consist of bureaucrats only. For these reasons, official bias in favour of its own class is writ large in the selection process. It is by no means suggested that the persons who have ultimately been selected are not deserving for the post of Information Commissioners. It is, however, emphasised that there can be equally suitable persons from other walks of life as well who may be the aspirants for such posts.”

The Court, therefore, impressed upon the Search Committee, in future, to pick up suitable candidates from other categories as well. After all, the very purpose of providing wide range of suitability was to have members in CIC by giving representation to other classes as well in order to ensure wider representative character in the composition of CIC

Strength of Information Commissioners in SICs:

Issuing directions to various States, the Court said that the purpose of Right to Information cannot be allowed to be frustrated by having thoroughly inadequate strength of Information Commissioners in the SIC as the Act enables the Government to have SIC with one SCIC and up to 10 Information Commissioners. It was hence, said that it is the statutory and constitutional obligation of the State Government to have adequate number of Information Commissioners for quick and speedy disposal of appeals and complaints.

General Directions:

  • All States shall place all necessary information including issuance of the advertisement, receipt and applications, particulars of the applicants, composition of Selection Committee etc. on the website as is being done by the Central Government.
  • The terms and conditions for appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner/Election Commissioner as stated under Section 13(5) of RTI Act must be specifically stipulated in the advertisement and put on website as well.
  • Search Committee should make the criteria for shortlisting the candidates, public, so that it is ensured that shortlisting is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria.
  • Information Commissioners should be appointed from other streams apart from the Government employee/ex-government employee as well.
  • The process for filling up of a particular vacancy must be initiated 1 to 2 months before the date on which the vacancy is likely to occur so that there is not much time lag between the occurrence of vacancy and filling up of the said vacancy.

The Court concluded by saying that:

“This Act is enacted not only to sub-serve and ensure freedom of speech. On proper implementation, it has the potential to bring about good governance which is an integral part of any vibrant democracy.”

[Anjali Bhardwaj v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 205, decided on 15.02.2019]

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