India’s Information Commissions Must Meet their Full Potential: CHRI STUDY
10 May, 2012
On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the passage of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) in Parliament (12 May, 2012), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has released a study that takes stock of the functioning of the Information Commissions established under it. On this occasion CHRI has published: ‘A Rapid Study of Information Commissions--Established Under the Right to Information Laws in
research team conducted
a quick study of the membership of all 29 Information Commissions (including
that of India established under the J&K RTI Act in
2010) against seven parameters. Jammu and
The findings show that Information Commissions in
away from meeting their full potential and are male-dominated. Not one woman of
eminence has been appointed Chief Information Commissioner anywhere in the
country. Less than 15% of the Information Commissioners are women.
30% of the posts of Information Commissioners around the country are lying vacant (as on 01 May 2012). This includes posts of State Chief Information Commissioner posts in
Maharashtra, Manipur and
Tripura. Only 83 Information Commissioners and Chief Information Commissioners
have been appointed against 117 posts all over the country. The State
Information Commissions of Jharkhand (six), Tamil Nadu (four) Andhra Pradesh,
Arunachal Pradesh Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh (three each) top the vacancy
In 2006-07 a little more than half of the posts in Information Commissions were occupied by retired civil servants. In 2012 two thirds of these posts have been cornered by retired civil servants, particularly those from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). The case of Haryana is even more interesting as 50% of the membership of the Haryana State Information Commission is made up of a husband and wife team that retired from the IAS. The J&K State Information Commission is the only multi-member body to buck the trend of having retired IAS officers on board.
Less than 10% of the Information Commissioners are from the field of journalism and mass media. Governments seem reluctant to trust the eminence and expertise of citizens who have never been civil servants in their lives.
Of serious concern is the fact that three Information Commissioners served as members of political parties prior to their appointment (in Kerala, Nagaland and
Punjab). The RTI Act bars members
of the Information Commissions from being affiliated to political parties. It is
not known whether they resigned from the primary membership of the political
party before taking on their current jobs.
All Information Commissions except that of Mizoram have dedicated websites but less than 50% of the, have uploaded their decisions in appeals and complaints cases disposed till date. Similarly more than 50% of the State Information Commissions do not display the cause list of cases on their websites. Section 25 of the Central RTI Act makes it mandatory for Information Commissions to prepare annual reports on the implementation of the law in their jurisdiction. The State Information Commissions of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur,
and Tamil Nadu have not
uploaded any annual report on their website till
date. Mizoram, Sikkim
While underlining the need for governments at the Central and State level to work closely with advocators of transparency to assess the pendency of cases in the Information Commissions, Ms. Maja Daruwala, Director, CHRI stated: “The size of the Information Commission should be determined on the basis of objective criteria”. She also stated: “Public access to all decisions of Information Commissions must become the policy instead of being left to the caprice of the Information Commissioners”
Mr Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, who led the CHRI research team stated: “Governments and civil society must work together to identify objective criteria for determining the suitability of candidates other than retired civil servants for appointment to the Information Commissions. The RTI Act intended to provide a diversity of life experience to such bodies from the fields of science, technology, law, management, social service and mass media whereas practice has turned them into parking lots for retired civil servants who are sympathetic to the political establishment.”