SUBHASH CHANDRA AGRAWAL
Supreme Court verdict on appointment of Information Commissioners is likely to induce some practical problems, and necessary clarifications are immediately required for Information Commissions to continue functioning normally.
Presently Central Information Commission has eight Information Commissioners out of total sanctioned strength of eleven, with none of them from judicial background as per standards defined in the court-verdict. To constitute double-bench with compulsion to have a judicial-member, at least eight judicial members are required to be appointed to sit with present eight Information Commissioners which is impossible in present set-up having maximum strength of eleven including Chief information Commissioner. Another problem will emerge because retirement-age of Supreme court Judge and Information Commissioner is same at 65 years, and there is move to increase retirement-age of High Court judges also at 65 years making it impossible to find retired judges to be appointed as Information Commissioners.
Retired bureaucrats were by and large handling RTI petitions quite well because of their earlier experience in bureaucracy to be well aware with irregularities and flaws in system. With changed role as transparency-watchdogs, many of their orders exposed scams and irregularities apart from having an effective check on future such happenings. Now with Information Commissioners with judicial background, it should be ensured that unhealthy court-culture of adjournments may not find place at Information Commissions where adjournments are very rare.
Compulsion of Division Bench is likely to increase backlog at Information Commissioners to an unmanageable situation firstly because two Information Commissioners will be needed for each hearing, and secondly consultation amongst two Information Commissioners will take much more time in a hearing than is with a bench of single Information Commissioner. However Supreme Court directions for appointment-process of Information Commissioners to begin much before the vacancy to be occurred, is welcome.