NEW DELHI: The Centre has refused to make public records containing deliberations on the appointment of four Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission, claiming it to be cabinet papers which cannot be made public before the final decision is arrived at.
In response to an RTI application filed by activist Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra, the government has said 256 applications were received by it in response to its advertisement on January 4, 2019.
There are seven Information Commissioners, including the chief, as against a sanctioned strength of 11.
Over 30,000 cases are pending before the commission, the highest adjudicating body in matters pertaining to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, according to government data.
To Batra's demand for the list of applicants, procedure of selection and inspection of file notings, the government said, "The information relating is exempted under Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act, 2005.
Since, the information in the file would be placed before the Committee of Secretaries and the process of selection of candidates is yet to be completed. It would not be conducive to allow inspection of files."
Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act cited by the government exempts disclosure of cabinet papers, including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers.
Batra also alleged the appointment process was not "transparent".
In its January 4 advertisement inviting applications for the post of four vacant positions in the Central Information Commission, the government had said the "salary, allowances and other terms and conditions of service of the Information Commissioner shall be as may be specified at the time of appointment of the selected candidate".
On a petition filed by a group of activists, including Batra, the Supreme Court had on February 15 held that terms and conditions of appointment given in the RTI Act undoubtedly state 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," the top court had said.
The apex court had also said it would also be appropriate for the Search Committee to make the criteria for short-listing the candidates, public, so that it is ensured that short-listing is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria.
Batra said that the denial of records related to appointment of the Information Commissioners is a violation of the Supreme Court verdict.
"Government has failed to fill Posts of Information Commissioners in timely and transparent manner even ignoring the SC order," he said.
Batra said the Search Committee cannot be treated like a Committee of Secretaries.
"The cabinet papers are prepared for the Union Cabinet for consideration and approval, while that is not the case with Search Committee for the purpose of short-listing panels to be placed before the Committee constituted under Section 12(3) of the RTI Act for its consideration.
Hence Search Committee cannot be treated in par with Committee of Secretaries to carry out the provision of this Act," he said.