Much before the enactment of RTI Act, which came on the statute book in the year 2005, Supreme Court repeatedly emphasised the people’s right to information to be a facet of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It has been held that the right to information is a fundamental right and flows from Article 19(1)(a), which guarantees right to speech. This right has also been traced to Article 21 which concerns about right to life and liberty. There are umpteen number of judgments declaring that transparency is the key for functioning of a healthy democracy.
Object of RTI Act:
Insofar as provisions relating to eliciting the information from public authorities is concerned, the same is provided in Chapter II which comprises of Sections 3 to 11. Section 3 declares that all citizens shall have the right to information, of course, subject to the provisions of this Act. Section 4 puts an obligation on every public authority to provide information. In order to facilitate the right to information, various obligations are cast upon the public authorities under this Section. Perusal of Section 4 listing these obligations is itself a clear message that it is for the purpose of facilitating the right to information to the citizens.
Delay in appointments of officials:
The CIC website shows that even appeals and complaints filed in the year 2016 are currently pending for disposal by the Commission. The petitioners further mention that though all the 04 vacancies arose in a routine 0manner on the retirement of Information Commissioners and upon the expiry of their five years’ tenure or upon attaining the age of 65 years, which fact was known to the Central Government much in advance, but no timely steps were taken for filling up of these vacancies. First vacancy had occurred more than 15 months before the filing of the petition.
GENERAL DIRECTIONS FOR CIC & SCICs
67) (i) Insofar as transparency in appointment of Information Commissioners is concerned, pursuant to the directions given by this Court, the Central Government is now placing all necessary information including issuance of the advertisement, receipt and applications, particulars of the applicants, composition of Selection Committee etc. on the website. All States shall also follow this system.
(ii) Insofar as terms and conditions of appointment are concerned, no doubt, Section 13(5) of RTI Act states that the CIC and Information Commissioners shall be appointed on the same terms and conditions as applicable to the Chief Election Commissioner/Election Commissioner. At the same time, it would also be appropriate if the said terms and conditions on which such appointments are to be made are specifically stipulated in the advertisement and put on website as well.
(iii) Likewise, it would also be appropriate for the Search Committee to make the criteria for shortlisting the candidates, public, so that it is ensured that shortlisting is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria.
(iv) We also expect that Information Commissioners are appointed from other streams, as mentioned in the Act and the selection is not limited only to the Government employee/ex- government employee. In this behalf, the respondents shall also take into consideration and follow the below directions given by this Court in Union of India vs. Namit Sharma6 “32. …
(iii) We direct that only persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in the fields mentioned in Ss. 12(5) and 15(5) of the Act be considered for appointment as Information Commissioner and Chief Information Commissioner.
(iv) We further direct that persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in all the fields mentioned in Ss. 12(5) and 15(5) of the Act, namely, law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance, be considered by the Committees under Ss. 12(3) and 15(3) of the Act for appointment as Chief Information Commissioner or Information Commissioners.
(v) We further direct that the Committees under Ss. 12(3) and 15(3) of the Act while making recommendations to the President or to the Governor, as the case may be, for appointment of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners must mention against the name of each candidate recommended, the facts to indicate his eminence in public life, his knowledge in the 6 (2013) 10 SCC 359 particular field and his experience in the particular field and these facts must be accessible to the citizens as part of their right to information under the Act after the appointment is made.”
(v) We would also like to impress upon the respondents to fill up vacancies, in future, without any delay. For this purpose, it would be apposite that the process for filling up of a particular vacancy is initiated 1 to 2 months before the date on which the vacancy is likely to occur so that there is not much time lag between the occurrence of vacancy and filling up of the said vacancy.
68) We would like to place on record that aforesaid directions are given keeping in view the salient purpose which RTI Act is supposed to serve. This Act is enacted not only to sub-serve and ensure freedom of speech. On proper implementation, it has the potential to bring about good governance which is an integral part of any vibrant democracy. Attaining good governance is also one of the visions of the Constitution. It also has vital connection with the development. All these aspects are highlighted above.