New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday in a landmark verdict ruled that Central Information Commissioner should have the same status as that of Chief Election Commissioner, thwarting the Centre's bid to bring it under its ambit.
The verdict, in a PIL filed by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj on the filling up of vacancies in information commissions, comes as a setback to the Centre, which had maintained that the posts of CIC should be government appointed and limited to bureaucrats only.
A two-judge bench of Justices AK Sikri and Abdul Nazeer also said that the selection for Information Commissioners, appointed under RTI act, should not be limited to bureaucrats and candidates from a range of professions and experience should be considered.
"According to the search committee, this class (bureaucrats) is the only class which is eligible. No doubt many of them would be very good after clearing the IAS and serving in the government for 30-35 years. But why not people from other fields-academics, journalists, scientists and lawyers," the SC had asked Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand.
The top court also recommended increasing the number of members in state information commissions and called for the vacancies to be filled up within six months.
Though the SC noted that government has been transparent about appointments, it directed the criteria of shortlisting should be made public. It also pointed out that out of 280 applicants, the search committee shortlisted only 14 bureaucrats.
After having posed certain questions to the Centre and having asked some of the states, including Maharashtra, to file a status report on filling up vacancies in state information commissions, the Bench had reserved its verdict on January 29, 2019.
The bench’s verdict comes after petitioner's counsel Pranav Sachdeva had argued that the government was deliberately appointing only bureaucrats as information commissioners in the CIC as they were used to functioning in a non-transparent manner. This "defeats the purpose of RTI Act", he had contended.
Sachdeva had demanded that the entire process of appointing information commissioners should be transparent and also said that a delay in appointing the commissioners was inordinately delaying decisions on appeals before state commissions and CIC.