What happens to the state information commission of Andhra Pradesh?21 Feb, 2014
The erstwhile Andhra Pradesh is now almost divided into two successor States, namely, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The assent of the President of India will seal this change formally. Many things have been divided between the two successor States. But there is a common High Court for both States which will succeed the Andhra Pradesh High Court and will be called the High Court at Hyderabad until a new High Court is established and constituted for Andhra Pradesh. Many State institutions already established in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh will continue to service people in both States. These institutions are mentioned in the 10th Schedule attached to the Reorganisation Bill. The text of the Bill as introduced in the Rajya Sabha is accessible on its website at: - http://188.8.131.52/BillsTexts/LSBillTexts/asintroduced/8_2014_LS_ENG.pdf
However the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill does not seem to mention anything about the fate of the State Information Commission. This institution established under the Right to Information Act, 2005 dealt with second appeals and complaints from people residing all over the undivided Andhra Pradesh. However once the President signs the Bill into law and it becomes operational, we do not know what will happen to the State Information Commission. The 10th Schedule attached to the Reorganisation Bill does not contain a mention of the AP State Information Commission. While the AP State Public Service Commission will service the successor State of Andhra Pradesh, the Union Public Service Commission may service the state of Telangana until a new Public Service Commission is established and constituted for that State. No such provision has been made for the AP State Information Commission.
Clause 80 of the Bill states that a person holding a post in relation to the affairs of the State, in any area of the State, on the day of enforcement of the bifurcation, shall continue to hold the same post or office in the successor State in which that area will fall. The AP State Information Commission functions from Hyderabad. To the best of my knowledge the AP State Information Commission does not have any office in any other part of the State as is the case in Maharashtra. So will the State Information Commission continue to service both states after the bifurcation? A strict reading of the law implies that Hyderabad being the common capital for both successor States Clause 80 will not have any application to the State Information Commission. So what will happen to the second appeals and complaints pending in the State Information Commission of the undivided Andhra Pradesh? While Clause 80 will apply to the Public Information officers and the First Appellate Authorities and ensure their continuation in the same posts in whichever successor State their posts may fall, it may not apply to the members of the State Information Commission as they are all based in Hyderabad. If this indeed the correct interpretation of the law, then RTI dispute disposals may come to a standstill in the AP State Information Commission until this matter is resolved. According to State Information Commission's website there are 9 members now including the State Chief Information Commissioner. If my interpretation is correct, then in order to ensure that they continue to function smoothly the following solutions may be opted for.
The State Government could take immediate steps to set up branches of the State Information Commission in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh so that members of the State Information Commission may get the benefit of Clause 80 before the new legislation and consequently the bifurcation comes into force. A second option would be for the Central Government to invoke its powers under Clause 82 and give appropriate directions for ensuring the smooth functioning of the State Information Commission(s) in both successor States. There is no need to hunt for this power in the RTI Act.
The Central Government must clarify this issue immediately, as the appeals and complaints pertain to the enjoyment of the fundamental right to information of the people living in Telangana. Administrative delays in resolving this matter should not be allowed to become another reason for hindering the disposal of these pending cases. However legal experts amongst our readers may please enlighten me if there is some provision in the Reorganisation Bill that saves the life of the State Information Commission of the undivided Andhra Pradesh and allows it to continue its operations unhindered. I will be the happiest person if my concerns explained above are proved to be unjustified.