The Supreme Court’s dissatisfaction with the failure of both States and the Union to fill vacancies in Information Commissions across the country was prominently expressed on October 30. During this hearing concerning the vacancies in these commissions, the court directed the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to compile a chart highlighting the number of vacancies and the pending appeals/complaints in all these commissions. Simultaneously, the Central and State governments were sternly instructed to take immediate steps to address these vacancies, as this issue is hampering the function of commissions established under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The hearing revealed several critical points:

1. The Central Information Commission (CIC) is currently operating without a Chief and has seven vacancies. Even more concerning, all four commissioners are slated for retirement by November 6, 2023, which would render the CIC nonfunctional.

2. State Information Commissions (SICs) are also grappling with significant challenges. For instance, the Maharashtra SIC is lacking a Chief and functions with just four commissioners, despite having a staggering backlog of over 1,15,000 pending appeals/complaints. On the other hand, the Jharkhand SIC has been completely defunct since May 2020, with no appeals or complaints being registered or disposed of for the past three years.

3. Several other State Information Commissions, including those in Tripura, Telangana, Karnataka, West Bengal, Odisha, and Bihar, are facing varying degrees of vacancies and substantial numbers of pending appeals/complaints.

The Supreme Court’s stern stance stemmed from its conviction that the failure to fill these positions defeats the fundamental purpose of the RTI Act and infringes upon the right to information. Consequently, the Court scheduled a follow-up hearing on this matter for three weeks later.

The petitioners Involved in this case are Anjali Bhardwaj, Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd), and Amrita Johri, and they are represented by Advocates Prashant Bhushan and Rahul Gupta. This situation underscores the pressing need for prompt action to ensure that the RTI Act can function effectively and uphold the right to information for citizens across the country.

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