Basics of the Central and State information Commissions

The RTI act 2005 provides for establishment of Central and State information commissioner as a designated authority to receive and inquire into a complaint from any person.

What is the Central information commission?

The Act provided for the constitution of the Central Information Commission (CIC) to be responsible for the implementation of the Act, exercising powers conferred on it under Section 18 of the Act. The CIC, under this Section, consists of one Chief Information Commissioner, who will head the Commission, and such number of Central Information Commissioners, as may be deemed necessary, but not exceeding ten. On 26 October 2005, Mr. Wajahat Habibullah became India’s first Chief Information Commissioner.

  • Under the CIC, The Chief Information Commissioner enjoys complete financial and administrative powers of a Department of the Government of India except in matters relating to the creation of posts, re-appropriation and writing-off losses for which it needs the specific concurrence of the Ministry of Finance.
  • The general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the Commission are vested in the Chief Information Commissioner, who is assisted by the Information Commissioners.

Who can become a CIC?

The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.

  • Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.
  • The Commissioner or a commission member shall not be a Member of Parliament or Member of the Legislature of any State or Union territory.
  • The Chief Information Commissioner shall hold office for a term of five years or after he has attained the age of sixty-five years whichever is earlier.
  • Every Information Commissioner shall hold office for a term of five years.
  • Chief Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner; an Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of an Election Commissioner: and receive salaries and allowances same as them.

What are Powers and Functions of CIC?

The general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the Central Information Commission vests in the Chief Information Commissioner assisted by the Information Commissioners and exercises all such powers and do all such acts and things which may be exercised or done by the Central Information Commission autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority under this Act. Some of the major works are –

  • To receive and inquire into complaints from any personrelating to access to information under the control of public authorities and to decide appeals against the decisions of designated appellate officers.
  • Powers to require the public authority to compensatethe complainant for any loss or other damage suffered.
  • The decision of the Commission on an appeal is binding and is not subject to further appeal in a courtof law.
  • Can make recommendations to public authoritiesnot conforming to the provisions or the spirit of the Act.
  • The Commission shall recommend to the Government every year, reforms on any “matter relevant for operationalizing the right to access information”.
  • While inquiring into a complaint it the same powers as of a civil courtunder the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, for the following purposes: enforcing the attendance of persons and compelling them to give oral or written evidence on oath and to produce documents or things; inspection of documents; evidence on affidavit; any public record or copies thereof from any court or office; issuing summons etc.
  • The Act mandates the CIC to submit Annual Reports to the Parliament.

What is a State information commission and Commissioner

The State Information Commission is constituted by the State Government with one State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) and not more than 10 State Information Commissioners (SIC) to be appointed by the Governor. The Commission and commissioners exercises its powers without being subjected to any other authority under RTI act 2005.

  • The Appointments Committee is headed by the Chief Minister including the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly and one Cabinet Minister nominated by the Chief Minister.
  • The qualifications for appointment as SCIC/SIC shall be the same as that for Central Commissioners.
  • The salary of the State Chief Information Commissioner will be the same as that of an Election Commissioner. The salary of the State Information Commissioner will be the same as that of the Chief Secretary of the State Government.

What are powers and functions of SIC?

  • The Central Information Commission/State Information Commission has similar duties but at central level and jurisdictions.
  • Have powers of Civil Courts similar to CIC such as – summoning and enforcing attendance, receiving evidence on affidavit; requisitioning public records, issuing etc.
  • The State Information Commission sends annual a report to the State Government.

What are Current Issues?

At present, the RTI Act states that the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners must be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.

The Supreme Court in September 2012 ruled that “only” serving and retired judges of the apex court and chief justices of state high courts can head the Central and State Information Commissions. Directing the Centre to amend the RTI Act in this regard, the court stated that the functions of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners can be “better performed by a legally qualified and trained mind possessing the requisite experience”.

It further ruled that lawyers with work experience of over 20 years will also be eligible for appointment as a member and all such decisions will be taken after consultations with the CJI and Chief Justice of the respective high courts.

The court passed the order on a PIL challenging the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005 which enumerate the qualifications needed for appointment as members to the commissions. As per the court, Information Commissions are “judicial tribunals” and need to be manned by a person of judicial mind, expertise and experience in that field.

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