Retired Officials Dominate Indian State Commissions

10 May 2012

Most Indian state information commissioners are retired civil servants and many posts are vacant, according to fact-filled critical report by the Access to Information Programme of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, based in New Delhi.

Also, less than half of the commissions have put some or all of their decisions online and their websites are weak, says the report.

The study (English and Hindi) evaluates the composition and working of the 29 information commissions established across the country.

Previous studies had documented that the commissions were mainly retired civil servants and the new report says that the proportion has increased.  “In 2006-07 a little more than a half of the Information Commissioners (52%) were retired civil servants. In 2012 two-thirds (66%) of the 83 Information Commissioners (including Chief Information Commissioners) at the Central and State level are retired civil servants.”

The study also documents that 30 percent of the 117 state commissioner posts are not filled. “The posts of State Chief Information Commissioners in three States, namely, Maharashtra, Manipur and Tripura have not been filled up yet.” Less than 15 percent of the information commissioners (8 out of 54) across the country are women. Less than 10 percent are from the field of journalism and mass media.

Access to Commission Decisions Limited

Only 45% of the Information Commissions (13 of 29) have uploaded some or all decisions on appeals and complaints for all seven years of their existence.

The study also documents numerous other limitations of commission websites.

10 Recommendations

1) Governments in collaboration with advocators of transparency must make an assessment of the pendency of cases in Information Commissions and determine the size of the body required to dispose them. If there is a need to expand more Commissioners should be appointed, if not a smaller body should be preferred.

2) Governments and advocators of transparency must work together to develop objective criteria for determining suitability of candidates for vacant posts in Information Commissions. Such a process must be based on the very principles underlying the RTI Act, namely, transparency, public participation and accountability. Cogent reasons must be given for the selection or the rejection of candidates. Efforts must be made to reflect the pluralistic character of society in the membership of Information Commissions with particular emphasis on the gender dimension.

3) All Information Commissions must ensure that their websites have some basic content (other than decisions) in the official language adopted in their jurisdiction in order to enable easy access to the large majority of citizens who may not use English for communication. Eventually the entire website may be made bilingual.

4) All Information Commissions must fulfil their statutory obligations and compile and publish their annual reports in a comprehensive and timely manner.

5) Both Parliament and the State Legislatures must find the time to debate the contents of the annual report either in plenary or in an appropriate committee and scrutinise the actions of the Government, public authorities and the respective Information Commissions in implementing the RTI Acts.

6) All Information Commissions must upload all decisions and orders on their websites. Decisions in matters decided by past State Information Commissioners may be archived. As Information Commissions are quasi-judicial bodies their decisions become precedents for their own use and must be easily accessible to future Commissioners for reference. They would be of use to appellants and public authorities also who may want to quote precedents in support of their arguments.

7) All databases of decisions and orders issued in English must be linked to a robust search engine. This would be of great assistance to appellants, respondents and researchers.

8) Where decisions are issued in languages other than English, it is useful to provide a summary of the decision in English containing details such as: information sought, grounds for second appeal/complaint and the decision/order passed by the Information Commission. The database would then become a resource not only for other Information Commissions but also for researchers who would like to study the trends and performance of the Information Commissions.

9) All Information Commissions must upload cause lists on their websites in the interests of improving transparency.

10) Publishing cause lists on websites in the official language of the State will make the facility more people-friendly.

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