India's rights activists urge President to speed up CIC appointment

A clutch of former Chief Information Commissioners and several right to information (RTI) activists have sought intervention from the President of India to ensure that there is no further delay in the appointment of a CIC in the Central Information Commission.

The post has been vacant since 22 August; and this has never happened for a day since the CIC was set up in 2005. The practise so far has been to appoint the senior-most Information Commissioner as CIC; and the appointment is announced before the post falls vacant.

President Pranab Mukherjee was petitioned after a similar plea to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information on 2 September yielded no result.

Citing Section 12 (4) of the RTI Act, which says that the ''general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the Commission shall vest in the CIC'', the signatories to the petition said the vacancy has the ''potential to adversely impact the effective functioning'' of the commission.

Asked about the delay in the appointment, Jitendra Singh, union minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions, said on Tuesday said it was in the process. Also, according to Jitendra, the ministry is awaiting the Lok Sabha secretariat's opinion on the selection committees for the appointment of several such posts in the absence of a leader of the opposition in parliament.

However, the petitioners pointed out in the letters to both the President and the Prime Minister that the RTI Act clearly specifies that in the absence of a LoP, the leader of the single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha can be made a member of the committee to appoint a CIC.

According to the petition, there is already a huge backlog in the CIC's work, with close to 25,000 appeals and complaints pending. ''Often people have to wait for more than a year for their appeals and complaints to be heard. The lack of a Commissioner will cause the pendency in the Commission to further increase,'' the plea to the President said.

The signatories to the petition include former CICs Wajahat Habibullah and Deepak Sandhu, former Information Commissioner Sailesh Gandhi, and RTI activists Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, Venkatesh Nayak and Shekhar Singh.

The government is meanwhile planning amendments to the RTI Act. As per the schedule, the new bill is likely to be presented in parliament on Monday.

The Aam Adami Party (AAP) along with several NGOs and RTI activists plan to protest against the amendment bill across all railway stations in Mumbai. Similar protests will be carried out across the country, according to former CIC Shailesh Gandhi.