Eminent citizens from all walks of life and not just bureaucrats should be considered for the role of Information Commissioners, who are part of the body formed to look into complaints and requests for information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Supreme Court said today. The top court also stressed on the importance of the need for transparency for good governance.
The Supreme Court also said the process of filling the vacancies for Information Commissioners must begin in two months before they are filled.
The Supreme Court said the government cannot appoint only government employees as Information Commissioners and that people from all walks of life must be considered for the key post, a point the court had mentioned last month too.
The top court is hearing a plea filed by RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) and Amrita Johri who have claimed that over 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending with the Central Information Commission (CIC) as posts of information commissioners are lying vacant.
A bench comprising Justices AK Sikri and SA Nazeer said the post of a Chief Information Commissioner is on a higher pedestal and the appointment process for the role should be on the "same terms" as in the process of a Chief Election Commissioner.
The Supreme Court also asked the centre and states to maintain transparency in appointments of the head of the body and Information Commissioners and upload the details of search committees and applicants on website.
Last month, the government had told the court that the process of appointing information commissioners was an ongoing exercise and that the government is following the selection criteria under the RTI Act.
In July last year, the top court had expressed concern over vacancies at the information commissions and had directed the centre and seven states to file an affidavit giving a time schedule for filling the posts.
The court had asked seven states - Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Kerala, Odisha and Karnataka - to apprise it about the time frame for filling the posts.
The petitioners have said that several information commissions like in Gujarat and Maharashtra were functioning without the chief information commissioner, even though the RTI Act sees a crucial role for this post on which the administration of the commission is vested.
The plea has claimed that the Centre and state governments have "attempted to stifle" the functioning of the RTI Act by failing to do their statutory duty of ensuring appointments in a timely manner.
Sudhir Bhargava took oath as the head of the body on January 1. Mr Bhargava was administered the oath of office by President Ram Nath Kovind at a ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhavan. He was earlier working as the Information Commissioner in the CIC.
(With inputs from PTI)