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Transparency In Appointments Of Commissioners Is Answer To RTI Woes

13/10/2015 12:50 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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There is considerable discontent amongst RTI users towards the Information Commissions and commissioners for not delivering the fruits of the RTI Act. We have a law which directly empowers individual citizens and they are understandably concerned about its proper implementation.

The political team mandated by the law for the appointment of information commissioners -- the Prime Minister/Chief Minister, Leader of Opposition and one minister -- cannot do this job by itself. For one, they lack the time for such an exercise and, two, are using the appointment of Information Commissioners as one more avenue for dispensing patronage. The political and bureaucratic establishments have been doling out favours in this manner for years in appointments for various commissions, lokayuktas, police complaints authorities et al and are unable to understand this outcry and anger of citizens against appointments of information commissioners.

"Presently, most commissioners have no passion for their work which leads to their output and quality being seriously affected."

There is a great need to introduce a transparent process for selecting information commissioners, who are expected to oversee transparency. There should be an insistence on public exposure for those who are interested in the post. Many information commissioners have no understanding or interest in transparency, or in the RTI Act. This is an affliction which is true for many people in power. A transparent process for selection would lead to a better environment for the implementation of the RTI Act.

The process I am suggesting is as follows:

1. A detailed list of eligibility should be made available giving essential and desirable qualifications.

2. The information Commissions should set a target for disposals - more than 5000 per commissioner per year. An attempt should be made to increase this target number. A detailed list of eligibility should be made available giving essential and desirable qualifications.

3. Every six months, the actual performance of each commissioner must be reviewed. A forecast should be prepared for the expected receipts and disposals for the next two years, also factoring in the retirements. This information should be displayed on their websites. This forecast would show the requirements for new commissioners to be appointed by taking into account the expected retirements.

4. The government should advertise its intention to appoint a certain number of information commissioners, depending on the need, six months in advance. Eminent people could apply or be nominated by others.

5. A search committee, perhaps consisting of two Members of Parliament, one Supreme Court judge and two RTI activists could be formed to shortlist a panel which could be three times the number of commissioners to be selected. These could be announced with the minutes of the meeting at which the short-listing was done, and the evaluation.

6. An interview should be held by the search committee in public view, to give citizens and the media the opportunity to hear the views and commitment to work of the candidates. Citizens could give their feedback to the search committee. After this, the search committee could give its recommendation for two times the number of commissioners to be appointed. Based on these inputs, the final decision to select the commissioners could be taken by the committee as per the Act consisting of the PM, Leader of Opposition and one minister. (A similar process could be adopted for state Information Commissions with MLAs instead of MPs and a High Court judge instead of one from the Supreme Court.)

Presently, most commissioners have no passion for their work which leads to their output and quality being seriously affected. During 2011, six central information commissioners disposed 22351 cases, whereas in 2014 seven commissioners of the same commission disposed an underwhelming16006 cases. The Maharashtra Commission has set a target of 4800 cases per year for each commissioner. The Commission's proceedings should be recorded and made available to the participants.

"Citizens will benefit if they could get the Commissions to publish data on the performance of each commissioner monthly..."

Citizens will benefit if they could get the Commissions to publish data on the performance of each commissioner monthly, and also build public opinion to lower the average age of the commissioners. At least half the information commissioners should be less than 60 years old.

There are many RTI activists who have gained considerable understanding of the nuances of the law, and have a natural empathy for transparency. Some of these should be appointed as information commissioners.

Another useful function which civil society groups could perform is to analyse all the decisions of each information commissioner each month in a transparent manner. This would build pressure on those who may be giving errant decisions. Presently, individual decisions are randomly criticised and this does not give a picture of the overall trend of a commissioner's decisions.

If we can set in place a transparent process for selecting commissioners and put continuous pressure on them for accountability, we will get much better results from our cherished Right to Information. If this works well, it could be used as a model for selecting commissioners for other commissions as well -- human rights, women's, lokayuktas and so on. After all, these are designed as our checks and balances of democracy. Presently, most of them are not delivering their expected functions effectively. We must ensure a proper process for their selection and vigilantly monitor their performance.

ALSO READ: Our RTI Experiences: 10 Years On, A Flawed Process Mars Powerful Act

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