Context:

The Supreme Court sought status reports from the Centre and states on vacancies and pendency in the Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Central Information Commission (CIC)
  2. Functions of CIC
  3. State Information Commission
  4. Issues Highlighted by the SC
  5. Way Forward

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  • The Central Information Commission has been constituted with effect from 12-10-2005 under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Hence, CIC is a Statutory Body.
  • The jurisdiction of the Commission extends over all Central Public Authorities.
  • It was constituted to act upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests to a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer due to either the officer not have been appointed, or because the respective Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer refused to receive the application for information under the Right to Information Act.

Functions of CIC

  1. Order enquiry into any matter on reasonable grounds only.
  2. Secure compliance of its decisions from any public authority.
  3. Receive and inquire into a complaint from any person:
    1. Who has not received any response to his request for information within a specified time.
    2. Who deems the information given to him/her incomplete, false or misleading, and any other matter related to securing the information.
    3. Who has been unable to submit a request for information due to the non-appointment of an officer.
    4. Who considers the fees so charged unreasonable.
    5. Who was refused the information requested.
  1. The commission has the power to examine any record under the control of the public authority. All such records have to be given to the Commission during examination and nothing shall be withheld.
  2. During inquiries, the CIC has the powers of a civil court, such as the powers to:
    1. Summon and enforce the attendance of persons, and compel them to give oral or written evidence on oath and produce documents or things
    2. Require the discovery and inspection of documents
    3. Receive evidence on affidavit
    4. Requisition public records or copies from any office or court
    5. Issue summons for the examination of documents or witnesses
    6. Any other matter that may be prescribed
  3. The CIC also submits an annual report to the GOI on the implementations of the provisions of the Act. This report is then placed before both the Houses of Parliament.

State Information Commission

  • State Information Commissions (SIC) are constituted by the State Government.
  • It has one State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) and not more than 10 State Information Commissioners (SIC) to be appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the Appointments Committee headed by the Chief Minister.

Issues Highlighted by the SC

  1. Delays and Backlogs: On average, the CIC takes 388 days (more than one year) to dispose of an appeal/complaint from the date it was filed before the commission. A report released last year has pointed out that more than 2.2 lakh Right to information cases are pending at the Central and State Information Commissions (ICs).
  2. No Penalties: The report found that the Government officials hardly face any punishment for violating the law. Penalties were imposed in only 2.2% of cases that were disposed of, despite previous analysis showing a rate of about 59% violations which should have triggered the process of penalty imposition
  3. Vacancy: Despite repeated directions from the court, there are still three vacancies in the CIC.
  4. Lack of Transparency: The criteria of selection, etc., nothing has been placed on record.

Way Forward

  • Democracy is all about the governance of the people, by the people and for the people. In order to achieve the third paradigm, the state needs to start acknowledging the importance of an informed public and the role that it plays in the country’s development as a nation. In this context, underlying issues related to RTI Act should be resolved, so that it can serve the information needs of society.
  • The role of information commissions is crucial especially during Covid-19 to ensure that people can obtain information on healthcare facilities, social security programs and delivery of essential goods and services meant for those in distress.
  • By its 2019 order, the apex court had passed a slew of directions to the Central and State governments to fill vacancies across Central and State Information Commissions in a transparent and timely manner.
  • Urgent digitization of records and proper record management is important as lack of remote access to records in the lockdown has been widely cited as the reason for not being able to conduct hearings of appeals and complaints by commissions.

-Source: Indian Express

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