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SC asks govt to give details about pendency of cases in information panel

Legal Correspondent New Delhi 07 July 2021 13:32 IST
Updated: 07 July 2021 15:12 IST

Prashant Bhushan says “party acolytes” and bureaucrats shortlisted and appointed to CIC in an opaque manner despite a court direction

The Supreme Court on Wednesday 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 (CIC), the apex adjudicatory body for disputes under the Right to Information Act.

A Bench of Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari directed the government amidst submissions made by advocate Prashant Bhushan, for activist Anjali Bhardwaj that “party acolytes” and bureaucrats have been shortlisted and appointed to the CIC in an opaque manner despite a specific direction from the court in 2019 that the appointment process should be transparent and has to be put in the public domain.

Mr. Bhushan referred to the dissent note of the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, a member of the Selection Committee comprising the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, on the recommendations made by the Search Committee.

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“It is shocking that the dissent note was not put on record… nothing has been placed on record. This court had directed in 2019 that the criteria for selection should be formulated and made public,” Mr. Bhushan submitted.

Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan said the government has fully complied with the Supreme Court direction and had filed a compliance-cum-status report on April 24 last year.

‘Mention latest position’

“More than a year has passed since your report … Let us know the latest position and then we will take a call,” Justice Nazeer addressed Ms. Divan.

Ms. Divan agreed to do so but said Mr. Bhushan should file an affidavit spelling out his allegations of “bogus” shortlisting and appointment to the CIC, etc. “We will respond to the allegations one by one,” she countered.

Mr. Bhushan argued that more than 300 people had applied for Information Commissioner posts.

“But nothing is there on who these people are… A person who had not even applied has been appointed… This person has been paradropped. Meanwhile, pendency of the cases in the CIC has grown to 36000.. The RTI Act is being destroyed. The vacancies are being filled up by party acolytes and bureaucrats with vested interests,” Mr. Bhushan argued.

Ms. Divan said there had been “subsequent developments”. “Importantly, criteria set out by the Supreme Court for shortlisting have been adopted. Appointments have been made in 2020, following which a compliance report was filed in April last year itself… Today there are seven members and the Chief Information Commissioner in the CIC,” she submitted.

The court also directed the States to also file status reports on the appointments, vacancies and pendency in their respective information commissions.

Mr. Bhushan said the pendency in Maharashtra was a whopping 75000 cases. He urged the court to seek information from Karnataka, Odisha and West Bengal.

The court ordered, “The Union of India and all other States are directed to file their latest status/compliance report within four weeks”.

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