New Delhi: The number of vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC) is set to rise to the highest ever – four – on January 15, with information commissioner Manjula Prasher retiring that day. Chief information commissioner R.K. Mathur has directed the Prime Minister’s Office to reveal information on the reasons behind the delay in appointments to the commission.
The order assumes significance as the 11-member commission will be left with just seven serving commissioners, including Mathur, if urgent appointments are not made. Already, the panel is witnessing a huge pendency of cases as the workload on serving information commissioners has increased.
In this case, the appellant, Commodore (retd) Lokesh K. Batra, had contended that he had filed an RTI application with the PMO on September 11, 2017 seeking information regarding the list of files using which appointments to the CIC were being processed. He had also sought the names and designations of members of the screening committee.
The matter reached the commission on November 11, as Batra was not satisfied with the response he received from the authorities. The commission heard the matter on January 8, and the appellant and the respondents participated in person.
Not a single appointment in 15 months
Batra brought to the notice of the commission that the Department of Personnel and Training had on September 2, 2016 called for applications for the appointment of two information commissioners. Further, the DoPT had stated that as many as 225 people had applied for the post.
What surprised Batra was that the central government could not find any suitable candidates to fill the vacancies even more than a year later.
As of now, appointments have not been announced, he had submitted, adding that on the 26th day of his RTI request, the PMO had transferred his application to the DoPT under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act. This, Batra maintained, did not make sense as he had only requested information pertaining to PMO records.
Batra further complained that instead of providing information, the PMO transferred his RTI application to the DoPT wrongly. He said the PMO also told him that the DoPT is the nodal department and custodian of records in the matter. However, the appellant maintained that the PMO should have provided the information as it related to it alone.
`Delay in providing information by PMO has become a routine’
Due to the action of the PMO, Batra charged that there was a “prolonged delay in providing the sought for information”. Mathur noted that Batra further alleged that “he has experienced that the prolonged delays in providing information by CPIO, PMO, has become a routine matter and this is happening persistently even after cautionary directions in his earlier cases.”
Batra had also demanded that since he had incurred unnecessary expenses on the case due to the approach of the PMO, the commission should impose a penalty upon the respondent and he may be awarded a token compensation of Rs 1 for the wrong suffered and expense incurred by him.
However, Mathur in his order stated that “the Commission is of the view that the appellant has not articulated specific loss or wrong suffered by him consequent to delay in providing the information. Hence, the request for allowing compensation to the appellant is not sustainable”.
However, the CIC came down hard on the PMO for transferring the plea. “The Commission is of the view that the appellant has specifically sought information as available in PMO. Hence a transfer of this RTI application to DoPT was not required. the appellant should be replied to categorically and given whatever information is available in the matter within PMO,” Mathur said.
It directed the PMO to take action in the matter within 15 days and to give the reasons for the delay in transferring the RTI application.