Transparency in the appointment of the Information Commissioners is a must for the working of RTI Act
Many NGO’s and RTI activists all over the country have been against the appointment of bureaucrats as the Information Commissioners at the Central and State Information Commission directly after their superannuation through a process which has been alleged to lack transparency.
Some activists have planned to move the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the appointment of outgoing Chief Secretary, Ms. Urvashi Gulati as the Information Commissioner. Ms. Urvashi Gulati's husband Mr. Naresh Gulati is Chief Information Commissioner of the State Information Commission (SIC) while her elder sister, Ms. Meenaxi Anand Chaudhry was the Information Commissioner earlier. It has been reported that in the selection committee meeting, a member of the committee and leader of opposition in the state assembly, Shri Om Prakash Chautala had already demanded that a fresh panel be prepared to appoint the Information Commissioner at SIC. Mr. Chautala had reportedly given his dissenting note in the meeting as there was no panel of candidates to select the Information Commissioner. In Andhra Pradesh, the appointment of the Information Commissioners is in an indeterminate state with the governor returning the file sent by the selection Committee. The DoPT has set a healthy precedent by declaring the vacancies and calling for applications from all eligible candidates. The states should emulate this practice which would add legitimacy to the selection process.
Questions have been raised about the knowledge and competence of some of the officers who have been appointed as Information Commissioners. The total disposal of RTI appeals in terms of numbers and the quality of orders of some of the Information Commissioners leaves a lot to be desired. Activists have alleged that an officer who has been conservative in his work when in service cannot be expected to lead by example if he is appointed as an Information Commissioner after retirement. Today, most of the Information Commissioners are retired bureaucrats and most of them are above sixty years of age. Many of the Information Commissioners had no exposure to the RTI Act before they became the Information Commissioners.
While who is to be appointed as the Information Commissioner is matter to be left to the Selection Committee, there is an urgent need to ensure that the procedure is transparent and merit rules. The process should be quick enough to fill the vacancy as the number of vacancies is soaring just as the number of appeals is rising. The Information Commissioner is the backbone of the RTI Act and any dilution of the process is likely to have far reaching consequences.