State SIC in Pitiable State Even After a Decade of RTI Act
At a time when the country is celebrating the 10th anniversary of implementation of the RTI Act 2005, the Kerala State Information is Commission is in a deplorable condition.
As per clause 15(2) of RTI Act, the state can have 10 Information Commissioners and a Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), making it a total of 11 commissioners. In Kerala, this number is six including the CIC. Of the six, three Information Commissioners have retired and one Information Commissioner Natarajan is under suspension for almost three years since November 2012. Though the Governor had suspended him for grave misconduct, no steps have been taken for his removal.
As per the RTI reply received from the office of the Governor, it is stated that no officer is entrusted with the follow up of his removal so far. It is also clarified that he is drawing subsistence allowance of `1.6 lakh per month as applicable to the Chief Secretary from the date of his suspension. Thus he has drawn around `56 lakh as subsistence from the state exchequer so far. It is a pity that no steps have been initiated by the authorities concerned for his removal, so that taxpayers’ precious money could have been saved.
Another sitting commissioner C S Sasikumar is retiring on October 24 (Saturday). Consequent to his retirement, the State Information Commission will have only the CIC and the functioning of the State Information Commission will come to a standstill.
Anticipating the above situation, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) Kerala unit had already represented to the Chief Secretary and the Governor who is the appointing authority for Information Commissioners, as early as April 30. NCPRI had requested the authorities concerned that the selection process so far with regard to the appointment of Information Commissioners was purely based on political considerations only.
For example one of the IC was Sony Thengamom whose qualification was “LLB completed”. He was an active member of the CPI party. Again, C S Sasikumar, another IC is an active member of INTUC the trade wing of the Congress party. As per news reports, Johny Nellore, chairman of Kerala Congress Jacob group, a constituent of the ruling Govt, has demanded that their nominee should be appointed as Information Commissioner for the ensuing vacancy to occur shortly on political consideration.
This is a wilful violation of section 15(6) of the RTI Act and clearly shows that the appointments are done on mere political considerations only, and no merit is considered in the appointments of the Information Commissioners in the state. This has resulted in piling of more than 10,000 number of pending cases before the State Information Commission.
It may also be noted that an appeal filed before the State Information Commission is presently being taken up for hearing after more than two years. For example an appeal filed by me before the Commission on September 11, 2013 is not taken up for hearing even after two years.
The main reason for the mounting up of huge number of pending cases itself is due to the incompetency of some of the Information Commissioners and huge number of vacancies of ICs. Justice delayed is justice denied.
The names proposed shall be three times of the existing vacancies and “the selection process should be commenced at least three months prior to the occurrence of vacancy.”
The Government is trying to give a natural burial to the State Information Commission.
Since an appeal filed before the Information Commission will not be taken up even after two to three years, the people will desist from filing further appeals. This will lead to the natural death of the State Information Commission.
The State Government is celebrating the 10th anniversary of RTI Act, and a programme has been convened on Tuesday in Kochi where Chief Minister Oommen Chandy will inaugurate the proceedings. But, neither the representatives of NCPRI nor any RTI activists’ forums are invited for the programme. Given this state of affairs, the RTI Act will fade into oblivion sooner than later.
(He is a state committee member of National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information, Kerala)