Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Ensure CIC is free from Govt interference, Sridhar Acharyulu writes to President Kovind

NEW DELHI, December 10: Former Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu on Monday wrote to the President to ensure that the new chief information commissioner and information commissioners have independence with regard to the ‘term, status and salary’ as provided by the Right to Information Act.
In his letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, Acharyulu urged that their term, status and salary shall not be “as prescribed by the central government” as contemplated by the present government in the proposed amendment to the RTI Act.
The RTI Act provides for a term of five years or 65 years of age, whichever is earlier, for the chief information commissioner and information commissioners.
The salaries and allowances payable to and other terms and conditions of service of the chief information commissioner shall be the same as that of the chief election commissioner and an information commissioner shall be the same as that of an election commissioner.
The Centre had recently contemplated to alter the service conditions which was strongly objected to by the civil society and former commissioners.
“The government shall ensure that it will not interfere in the functioning of Central Information Commission and also to insulate the office of Chief Information Commissioner or individual commissioner from direct or indirect pressures or interferences from any of its offices such as PMO or the Ministry of DoPT,” he said.
Acharyulu also urged the president to ensure that the new chief information commissioner, likely to be chosen soon by the government, was not from the administration field Citing section 12 (5) of the RTI Act, he said the Act provides for selecting people of eminence having experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.
“As the Chief Information Commissioner in all these 13 years was selected from the field of administration only, at least, this time an eminent person from the field other than administration may be selected,” he urged.
Acharyulu, who gave several path-breaking verdicts during his five year tenure in the Central Information Commission (CIC), said with experts from various fields, there will be no scope for bureaucratic majority or domination in its administration, besides accommodating different viewpoints.
If the government selects more number of former bureaucrats for these posts, it will be a breach of the letter and spirit of the transparency law and more particularly that of Section 12(5) of RTI Act, which may not stand the scrutiny by the judiciary, he argued.
The former information commissioner said the Selection Committee should ensure that the new commissioners appointed shall have complete independence with regard to the term, status and salary as provided by the RTI Act.
“Their term, status and salary shall not be ‘as prescribed by the Central Government’ as contemplated by the present Government in the proposed amendment to RTI Act,” he said.
Acharyulu, former law professor, retired as the information commissioner on November 21.
Chief Information Commissioner RK Mathur and Information Commissioners Yashovardhan Azad and Amitava Bhattacharyya also retired in quick succession, leaving the panel headless.
Acharyulu said the Commission had experienced absence of administration for several months when the government failed to appoint the chief information commissioner, three years ago, after the retirement of the then chief.
“Leaving seven positions of CICs will also lead to increase in pendency of second appeals or complaints,” he said.
The delay in information amounts to denial of information and delay in information justice also means its denial, he said.
Speaking at the annual convention of the Central Information Commission on October 12, minister of state for personnel Jitendra Singh had taken a dig at the former UPA dispensation for causing vacancies in the Commission.
He had said it was the first time that the Commission attained full strength as under the previous government, sometimes only 3 commissioners were left.
Meanwhile, the CIC is again left with only three information commissioners as against the full strength of a chief information commissioner and 10 information commissioners.
“The situation is becoming same again … We are conscious of the situation and we will not hold back such appointments,” Singh had said in October.
However, this is the third time that the Commission, the highest adjudicating authority in RTI matters, is without a head since the NDA government took over in 2014.
The Commission remained headless for 10 months between August 22, 2014 to June 10, 2015 after the retirement of Rajiv Mathur, then CIC.
Again, the panel was headless for nearly a month after the retirement of then CIC Vijay Sharma on December 1, 2015. He was succeeded by RK Mathur on January 2, 2016. (PTI)