Court Tells Indian State to Pick Info Commissioners

4 February 2013

The high court of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has ordered the government to seek applications in order to fill the 10 vacant posts of the State Information Commission, according to articles in the Daily Pioneer and the Jagran Post.

Most of the positions have been vacant since August of 2010, resulting in a backlog of at least 11,000 cases, NDTV has reported. The Madhya Pradesh Information Commission is supposed to have 10 commissioners and a chief commissioner. The Chief Commissioner retired Dec. 31.

The Madhya Pradesh government has sought guidance on how to handle a controversial2012 Indian Supreme Court decision (Namit Sharma v Union of India) mandating that retired judges should head information commissions, a ruling that has caused widespread confusion and is being appealed. (See previous report.)

NDTV said that there are 9,946 appeals and 1,495 complaints pending against various state government departments and that the commission stopped hearing any matters Sept. 13, 2012.

Ajay Dubey, the RTI activist who brought the case, was quoted as saying, “The state government is delaying the appointment of Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners in the State Information Commission by citing legal issues. The Centre has already said that appeals and complaints can be resolved without having members as retired judges.”

The state of Goa’s Information Commission also is headless and lacks commissioners. “Sources in the government said no fresh initiatives have been made to fill up the posts of chief information commissioner (CIC) and state information commissioner (SIC) which are vacant for the past four months,” reports the Times of India.

The Supreme Court held that Information Commissions are quasi-judicial tribunals and ought to be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or a retired  Chief Justice of a High Court. It also directed that all RTI matters be heard by a two-member panel of commissioners, and at least one must be a retired judge or a judicially trained person. It also directed that persons with legal training and experience be preferred for appointment as appellate authorities to receive and decide first appeals.

No order has been issued on the appeal. The retirement of one of the two judges who issued the decision may require that the petition be reheard before a new bench.

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