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Fill SIC posts in six months, don't hire just govt officers: Apex court

The Court also lamented on the huge vacancies in these commissions due to which applications under RTI have piled up without a hearing for over two years.

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The Supreme Court set a six-month deadline on Friday for the State Information Commissions (SICs) to fill up vacant posts. It also said there was a need for more transparency and inclusion in the selection process to ensure experts from all fields, and not just government officers, become Information Commissioners (IC) and Chief Information Commissioners (CIC).

Passing a slew of directions on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj and Lokesh Batra, the apex court indicted the Search Committee, comprising mostly government officials, for having an "official bias" towards its own class. The Bench said this was evident from past appointments.

"A strange phenomenon which we observe is that all those persons who have been selected belong to only one category, namely, public service, i.e., they are the government employees,"said Justices AK Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer, "It is difficult to fathom that persons belonging only to one category are always be found to be more competent and more suitable than persons belonging to other categories."

The Court observed that the Right To Information (RTI) Act provides for any person of eminence in public life.

The criteria is that (s)he must have a wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance to be qualified enough to become CIC or IC.

The Court also lamented on the huge vacancies in these commissions due to which applications under RTI have piled up without a hearing for over two years. Information supplied by the petitioners indicated that more than 23,500 appeals and complaints were pending as on April 04, 2018. Many SICs lacked a CIC and in most such bodies, the posts remained vacant for months and years.

"No effective steps have been taken for filling up of these vacancies...it will be appropriate for the Search Committee to make the criteria for short-listing the candidates public so that it is ensured that this is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria," said the bench.

Already, the Department of Personnel and Training puts names of applicants for these posts, names of the members of Search Committee, agenda for the Search Committee, Minutes of the Search Committee etc on the website. Once the Search Committee submits recommendations, the task is left to the prime minister headed Selection Committee.

To ensure there are no further delays, the bench said that the process for filling up the said post should begin at least two months before the vacancy is created. In the case of posts where the process has begun, this should be completed within one month. Where the process is yet to be initiated, the process of filling up should be completed within six months, the Bench added.

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