Background of Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners in India
Article 2 of a series of articles regarding the Information Commissions of India
Background of Chief Information Commissioners
Sections 12(5) and 15(5) of the Central RTI Act contain a list of fields of experience and expertise from which candidates – men and women – may be chosen for filling up the posts of the Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners at the Central and State level, respectively. Section 12(5) of the J&K RTI Act also contains a similar list for the guidance of the J&K State Government. The fields of expertise mentioned in both laws are- law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media and administration and governance. The main findings of the current study with regard to the background of Chief Information Commissioners are given below.
Main findings of the study:
Nowhere across the country have eminent women been appointed as Chief Information Commissioners. The State Information Commissioner of Tripura is the lone woman officiating as the State Chief Information Commissioner.
90% of the Chief Information Commissioners of the Central and State Information Commissions are retired civil servants.
75% of the posts of Chief Information Commissioners have been cornered by retired officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Two posts have been filled up by retired officers of the Indian Foreign Service (Assam and Mizoram) and one from the Indian Police Service (Kerala). The State Chief Information Commissioner of J&K served with the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) earlier.
The field of expertise: “administration and governance” has become synonymous with the term “civil services”. This limitation introduced by practice was unintended by the RTI laws. It excludes academics that have expertise in administration and governance from being considered for appointment.
Only two Chief Information Commissioners are from the judiciary. A retired High Court Judge heads the Jharkhand State Information Commission while a retired City Civil and Sessions Judge heads the Goa State Information Commission. The acting State Chief Information Commissioner in Maharashtra practiced as an advocate prior to his appointment to the Commission.
Background of Central and State Information Commissioners
It must be pointed out that the two RTI laws do not specify any different set of qualifications for the Information Commissioners. They are the same as those for Chief Information Commissioners. Additionally, these laws prescribe criteria for disqualification of a candidate. Candidates who are members of any political party or those who are pursuing any business or profession may not be appointed to the Information Commissions. The main findings of the background of other members of the Information Commissioners are given below.
Main findings of the study:
Less than 15% of the Information Commissioners (8 out of 54) serving across the country are women. Three of them are with the Central Information Commission. The remaining women Commissioners are serving on the State Information Commissions of Nagaland, Punjab, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh.
53% of the posts of Information Commissioners at the Central and State level have been cornered by retired civil servants. 16 of them served in the IAS, 9 served in the State civil services, 3 served in the Indian Police Service and 1 served in the Indian Information Service.
22% of the Information Commissioners either practiced or taught law prior to their appointment. Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of Information Commissioners with law background (five).
Less than 10% of the Information Commissioners are from the field of journalism and mass media. Punjab has two Information Commissioners from this field of expertise.
Only 1 Information Commissioner (J&K) has a background in science and technology (engineering). He was a member of the State civil service prior to his appointment to the State Information Commission.
Only 1 Information Commissioner (Odisha) has a background in social service.
Two Information Commissioners are from fields other than those mentioned in Sections 12(5) and 15(5) of the Central RTI Act. One served as an officer with a UN agency while another was an entrepreneur-cum-RTI activist. Both individuals are members of the Central Information Commission.
Three Information Commissioners served as members of political parties prior to their appointment (in Kerala, Nagaland and Punjab). Whether they resigned from the political parties prior to entering the office of Information Commissioner is difficult to ascertain as such information was not available on inquiry. Nor are the letters of resignation from the primary membership of the respective parties posted on the Commissions’ websites.
In Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal the State Information Commissions are filled with only retired IAS officers. No eminent person in any other field of expertise has been found suitable for appointment to the Information Commissions in these States.
7 of the 9 members of the Central Information Commission are retired civil servants.
J&K State Information Commission is the only multi-member body without any retired IAS officer on it.
50% of the membership of the Haryana State Information Commission is made up of a husband and wife team.
No eminent citizen with experience and expertise in the fields of management, science and technology, mass media, journalism and social service has been appointed Chief Information Commissioner anywhere in the country since 2005.
1) Governments in collaboration with advocators of transparency must make an assessment of the pendency of cases in Information Commissions and determine the size of the body required to dispose them. If there is a need to expand more Commissioners should be appointed, if not a smaller body should be preferred.
2) Governments and advocators of transparency must work together to develop objective criteria for determining suitability of candidates for vacant posts in Information Commissions. Such a process must be based on the very principles underlying the RTI Act, namely, transparency, public participation and accountability. Cogent reasons must be given for the selection or the rejection of candidates. Efforts must be made to reflect the pluralistic character of society in the membership of Information Commissions with particular emphasis on the gender dimension.
Source: A Rapid Study of Information Commissions Established Under the Right to Information Laws in India; Research Team - Venkatesh Nayak and Amikar Parwar with inputs from Nandita Sinha; Editor - Maja Daruwala; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI