Central Information Commission (CIC) was established by the Central Government in 2005, under the provisions of the Right to Information Act (2005), aiming to enhance transparency and accountability in governance. Despite its significance, certain challenges have hindered the optimal functioning of the CIC, thereby requiring effective solutions for a robust system.

Main Body:

Issues Associated with functioning of CIC:

Delays and Backlogs:
The disposal of appeals/complaints before the CIC takes an average of 388 days, hampering timely access to information.
Presently, there are over 2.2 lakh pending RTI cases at the Central and State Information Commissions (ICs).
Example: A citizen seeking details about a public project’s expenses faced a two-year wait before obtaining the requested information.

Lack of Penalties:
Government officials largely escape penalties for violating RTI norms.
A mere 2.2% of disposed cases resulted in penalties, despite a much higher rate of around 59% violations detected in previous analyses.
Example: A government department failed to provide requisite information within the stipulated timeframe, but no punitive action was taken against the responsible officials.

The CIC faces a persistent issue of vacancies despite court directives.
The existence of three vacancies at the CIC highlights the challenge of maintaining a full-strength commission.
Example: An ongoing case concerning an appeal for environmental data was delayed due to the lack of a full bench at the CIC.

Lack of Transparency:
The criteria and process of selecting CIC members are not transparent, leading to doubts about the selection’s fairness.
This opacity in the selection process undermines public trust in the institution.
Example: The lack of publicly available criteria raised questions about a recent appointment to the CIC.

Dilution of Status and Power:
Granting the Central government authority to determine salaries and service conditions dilutes the independence of the CIC.
This threatens the commission’s autonomy and could compromise its ability to hold authorities accountable.
Example: A recent decision by the government to alter the CIC’s financial structure raised concerns about its impartiality.

Way Forward:

Resolving Underlying Issues:
Addressing core issues within the RTI Act will ensure its effective implementation.
Court-Directed Measures:
Implementing the Supreme Court’s 2019 directives on transparent and timely appointment to fill vacancies within ICs.
Digital Transformation:
Urgently digitizing records and enhancing record management to streamline the information retrieval process.
Proactive Disclosure:
Adopting Section 4 of the RTI Act to promote proactive disclosure of information by public authorities.
Constitutional Status:
Exploring the possibility of granting constitutional status to CICs to enhance their autonomy and authority.

Preserving the right to question is essential for a robust democracy. Upholding the RTI Act, which empowers citizens to hold those in power accountable, is vital for the foundational integrity of our democratic republic. Addressing the issues faced by the Central Information Commission and bolstering its functioning will ensure that transparency and accountability remain keystones of our governance system.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish August 24, 2023