The Supreme Court Monday directed the Centre and state governments to appoint information commissioners within three months in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the State Information Commissions (SICs), and said there was a need to evolve guidelines to stop misuse of the Right to Information Act.
It also directed the authorities concerned to put on website the names of members of search committee, meant for selection and appointment of CIC’s information commissioners (ICs), within two weeks.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde took note of the submission of lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for activist Anjali Bhardwaj, that the Centre and various states have not complied with the February 15 judgement of the apex court asking them to appoint ICs in the CIC and the SICs within 1-6 months in a transparent manner.
“We direct the Centre and the states to conclude the appointment within three months,” said the bench, also comprising justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, and added that a contempt petition may be filed if its order is not complied with.
The apex court, in its February 15 verdict, had said that selection of information officers should include people of eminence from various other fields and not be limited to bureaucrats and the exercise be conducted in a transparent manner. It had also directed the Centre and eight states – West Bengal, Orissa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Nagaland, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karanataka – to fill up the vacancies of ICs in the CIC and SICs without any delay within a period of one month to six months.
Bhushan alleged on Monday that even after the lapse of almost 11 months, the authorities have not complied with the judgment and moreover, instead of appointing information commissioners from the pending applications of the aspirants, the authorities have sought fresh pleas just to delay the process.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, appearing for the Centre, vehemently opposed the submission and said that the search committee has already been set up for selection and appointment of ICs. The bench then asked the Centre to put the information including the details of members of the search committee on the web-site and fixed the matter for hearing in February next year.
During the hearing, the bench raised the issue of abuse of transparency law and said that there was a need to evolve guidelines to stop misuse of the Right to Information Act. It said the RTI has been mostly used by those who have no relation to the information sought for. “We are not against the RTI Act but we think it is necessary to evolve some kind of guidelines to regulate this,” the bench said.
“People who are in no way connected to an issue file RTI. It sometimes amount to criminal intimidation, which is a nice word for blackmail. We are not against the right to information. But there is need for guidelines. It cannot be an unrivalled right,” it said.
The bench was hearing an interim application filed by one Anjali Bhardwaj seeking a direction to government authorities on implementation of top court’s order asking them to appoint ICs within a stipulated time and in a transparent manner.
Earlier, the top court, in its judgment, had said that Parliament intended persons of eminence in public life be taken as CIC and ICs but a “strange phenomenon is happening”, that those persons who have been selected belong to only one category which is public service.
It had also said that to bring transparency in selection of ICs, states should adopt the process adopted by the Centre in which it uploads on the web-site the names of the Search Committee, the names of the candidates who have been shortlisted as well as the criteria which is followed for selection.
It had said that the RTI is enacted not only to sub-serve and ensure freedom of speech but on proper implementation, “it has the potential to bring about good governance which is an integral part of any vibrant democracy”.