The Supreme Court has directed the central government and a host of states, including Bengal, to file status reports on steps they have taken for filling up vacant posts of information commissioners and also how these posts were to be filled.
"Such a status report shall be filed within one week. List on 13.12.2018," a bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer said on Tuesday in an order that was uploaded formally on Wednesday.
The directive to the Centre and the states - the others being Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala and Karnataka - came after advocate Prashant Bhushan brought to the court's notice a large number of vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions.
Bhushan, who appeared for RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Lokesh Batra and Amrita Johri, said this indicated that governments were out to throttle the functioning of the Right to Information Act. This was not good for democracy, he said, as the main purpose behind passing the RTI Act was to ensure transparency. The RTI activists had also complained about the number of vacancies and the huge backlog of cases that had piled up because of the vacancies.
According to data made available to the court by the Centre and the states concerned, the CIC has eight vacancies, including that of the chief information commissioner. About 26,037 cases were pending before the CIC as of December 2, 2018.
Nine posts are vacant in the Bengal information commission. Till October 31, 2017 (figures are available till this date in some other states too), Bengal had 8,000 cases, some of them 10 years old. Nine posts of information commissioners are vacant in Gujarat. Around 5,000 cases were pending as of November 30.