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Centre files transparency case affidavit in sealed cover

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Supreme Court is set to hear case on vacancies at Central, State Information Commissions.

With the Supreme Court set to hear the case on continuing vacancies at the Central and State Information Commissions on December 16, the Centre has filed its progress report in a sealed cover.

The Commissions are the courts of appeal under the Right to Information Act and continuing vacancies lead to long delays in settling cases. At the Central Information Commission — which has four vacancies — there are more than 33,000 pending cases.

On November 6, the Supreme Court issued a show-cause notice to the Centre and the governments of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka and Telangana on their progress in making timely and transparent appointments to the Commissions.

It asked them to submit a status report on the vacancies and a compliance report on the transparency orders issued by the court in February. As of Saturday, only Odisha and Karnataka had filed their affidavits, according to a Supreme Court office report.

The advocate for the Department of Personnel and Training — which is the nodal Central Ministry for RTI — submitted its status report and compliance report on December 13 in sealed covers, says the office report. “The same is being circulated at the residential offices of the Hon’ble Judges,” it adds. Petitioners in the case say they have not received any copy of the Centre’s report, though they have received copies of the submitted State reports.

This seems to continue the recent trend of government agencies and departments using sealed covers to submit information to the judiciary. Earlier this month, in its judgment allowing bail to former Union Minister P. Chidambaram in the INX Media case, the apex court pulled up the Delhi High Court for accepting sealed cover documents from investigating agencies and reproducing their contents as judicial findings.

Sealed covers have also featured in the Rafale petition, the 2G scam trial and a case regarding the illegal detention of children in Jammu and Kashmir. Retired judges have said sealed covers are typically used in matters of national security or with regard to ongoing investigations.

Petitioner and RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj pointed out the irony of the government using sealed covers in a case regarding information and transparency. “This is very peculiar. This whole case is about the Right to Information and transparency in the appointment process in these watchdogs of transparency. To submit this in a sealed cover is totally inexplicable. What is there to hide?” she asked.

On Thursday, days before the hearing, the DoPT issued a fresh advertisement to fill the four vacancies at the CIC, along with an advertisement for the position of the Chief Information Commissioner, as incumbent Sudhir Bhargava is set to complete his tenure next month. In fact, the DoPT had already issued an advertisement for the four vacancies almost a year ago, and 256 people had applied for the posts by January 25, 2019. However, the DoPT has not taken any action to make appointments based on that advertisement.

The fresh advertisement demands that those who had applied now communicate in writing their willingness to be considered under the new terms and conditions imposed by the newly amended RTI Act and Rules. Under the new rules, Commissioners’ tenures, salaries and status have been reduced.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 5:10:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-files-transparency-case-affidavit-in-sealed-cover/article30314126.ece

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