Central Information Commission
Recently, the Supreme Court directed the Central government to place on record the latest information on the appointment of Information Commissioners, vacancies and pendency of cases in the Central Information Commission.
What are important provisions amended under the Right to Information Act (Amendment) Act, 2019 and issues hindering the full functioning of the Central Information Commission?
About Central Information Commission (CIC):
● CIC was instituted by the Central Government in 2005.
● It is an independent, statutory body formed under the RTI Act (Right to Information Act, 2005) to ensure freedom of information to citizens. It is not a Constitutional body.
● It considers complaints and appeals on offices, financial institutions, public sector undertakings, etc., under the Central Government and the Union Territories.
➢ The Commission includes a Chief Information Commissioner and not more than ten Information Commissioners.
➢ At present (2020), the Commission has six Information Commissioners apart from the Chief Information Commissioner.
➢ They are appointed by the President on the recommendations of a committee consisting of the Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM.
They shall hold office for such term as prescribed by the Central Government or until they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They are not eligible for reappointment.
Functions and Power:
Following are the authorities and functions of the Central Information Commission:
➢ The commission could order an inquiry into any matter if there are reasonable grounds.
➢ The commission has the authority to secure compliance of its decisionsfrom the public authority.
➢ The commission might recommend steps that ought to be taken for promoting such conformity if the public authority does not conform to the provisions of this act.
➢ The powers of the commission are restricted only to give information and not to take any action, even if there are anomalies.
➢ An annual report is submitted by the commission to the central government on the implementation of this act's provisions. This report is presented to each house of Parliament by the central government.
Right to Information Act (RTI Act):
The Right to Information Act, 2005 was legislated, so that seeking information becomes simple, easy, time-bound and cheap which makes the legislation successful, powerful and effective.
Amendments to the RTI Act, 2019:
● Removal of fixed-term: As per the original act, the CIC and ICs will hold office for a term of five years. The Amendment removes this provision and states that the central government will inform the term of office for the CIC and the ICs.
● Determination of Salary: The salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) would be equal to that of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, respectively, according to the original act. Similarly, the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be paid the same as the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary to the state government.
● The Central Government now has the 293 authority to set the wages, pensions and other terms and conditions of service for central and state CICs and ICs.
● There has been an enormous reluctance in many states and the centre to appoint the full strength of commissioners,leading to a large pendency.
● A report released last year pointed out that more than 2.2 lakh cases are pending at the Central and State Information Commissions.
● The criteria of selection have not been made public, in spite of the Supreme court’s direction in 2019 that the criteria for selection should be formulated and made public.
● Government officials face hardly any punishment or penalties for violating the law. Non-imposition of penalties in deserving cases by commissions sends a signal to public authorities that violating the law will not invite any serious consequences. This destroys the basic framework of incentives built into the RTI law and promotes a culture of impunity.
● Non-transparency in appointment: Critics argue that political loyalists are being appointed to the post of commissioner.
● Chief and other information commissioners have zero powers to enforce their orders, except the imposition of a fine for non-compliance
● The CIC returns a large number of complaints and appeals on minor grounds.
Government should appoint impartial officers to maximum strength sanctioned by the law. This Right to Information Act is enacted not only to sub-serve and ensure freedom of speech with access to information. On proper implementation, it has the potential to bring about good governance which is an integral part of any vibrant democracy.