CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION (CIC)
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Context: Heeralal Samariya was sworn in as the Chief of the Central Information Commission (CIC) by President Droupadi Murmu.
- The top post of the Central Information Commission (CIC) became vacant after the term of the previous Chief Information Commissioner, Y K Sinha, ended on October 3. Following his departure, the position remained unfilled, leading to concerns about the effective functioning of the CIC and the Right to Information Act of 2005.
- The appointment came in response to concerns raised by the Supreme Court. On October 30, the Supreme Court expressed serious concerns about the vacancies in the CIC and state information commissions (SICs). The court emphasized the importance of filling these positions promptly to ensure the effective implementation of the Right to Information Act.
- The Supreme Court warned that if the vacancies in the CIC and SICs were not filled promptly, the 2005 law on the Right to Information would become a "dead letter." This expression implies that the law would lose its practical significance and effectiveness without a functional information commission to oversee its implementation.
Central Information Commission (CIC)
- The Central Information Commission (CIC) is a statutory body that was established in 2005 under the Right to Information Act (RTI Act).
- The RTI Act is a landmark legislation that empowers citizens to access information held by public authorities and promotes transparency and accountability in governance.
- The CIC consists of one Chief Information Commissioner and up to ten Information Commissioners, who are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Union Cabinet Minister.
- The CIC has its headquarters in New Delhi and can also establish benches in other parts of the country.
Functions and objectives
- To receive and dispose of appeals and complaints from individuals who have not been able to obtain information from public authorities under the RTI Act.
- To issue directions and orders to public authorities for the implementation of the RTI Act, such as appointing Public Information Officers (PIOs), publishing proactive disclosures, maintaining records, etc.
- To impose penalties on PIOs or other officials for violating the provisions of the RTI Act, such as denying or delaying information, providing false or misleading information, etc.
- To conduct inquiries and investigations into any matter relating to the RTI Act, suo motu or a complaint.
- To monitor and report on the status of compliance of public authorities with the RTI Act and make recommendations for improvement.
- To conduct awareness and training programs on the RTI Act for public authorities, civil society organizations, media, and citizens.
- To advise the government on any matter relating to the RTI Act, such as amendments, rules, regulations, etc.
Some of the notable achievements of the CIC are:
- Directing the disclosure of assets and liabilities of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.
- Directing the disclosure of marks and cut-off marks of candidates appearing for civil services examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
- Directing the disclosure of details of foreign visits undertaken by ministers and bureaucrats using public funds.
- Directing the disclosure of details of loans written off by public sector banks.
- Directing the disclosure of details of political donations received by political parties.
- Directing the disclosure of details of beneficiaries of various welfare schemes implemented by the government.
- Directing the disclosure of details of land acquisition and rehabilitation policies for various development projects.
- Directing the disclosure of details of environmental impact assessments and clearances for various industrial and mining projects.
Challenges and constraints in fulfilling its mandate
- Vacancies in the posts of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners, leading to pendency and delay in the disposal of appeals and complaints.
- Inadequate infrastructure, staff, and resources for conducting inquiries, investigations, monitoring, reporting, awareness, and training activities.
- Non-compliance or defiance of orders or directions issued by the CIC by some public authorities or officials.
- Harassment or intimidation of PIOs or applicants by vested interests or influential persons.
- Lack of awareness or understanding of the RTI Act among public authorities or citizens.
- Ambiguities or loopholes in some provisions or rules of the RTI Act that create confusion or scope for misuse.
Way forward to enhance its effectiveness
- Filling up vacancies on time through a transparent and merit-based selection process.
- Strengthening its infrastructure, staff, and resources through adequate budgetary allocation and rationalization.
- Enforcing its orders or directions strictly through legal or administrative measures such as contempt proceedings, disciplinary action, recovery of penalties, etc.
- Protecting PIOs or applicants from harassment or intimidation through security arrangements, legal aid, whistle-blower protection, etc.
- Increasing awareness or understanding of the RTI Act among public authorities or citizens through mass media campaigns, social media platforms, publications, workshops, etc.
- Clarifying or amending some provisions or rules of the RTI Act that create confusion or scope for misuse through consultation with stakeholders, experts, civil society organizations, etc.
- The Central Information Commission (CIC) is vital for ensuring citizens' right to information and governmental accountability. Despite its contributions, it faces challenges that require urgent attention. Strengthening the CIC through collaborative efforts involving government, judiciary, legislature, media, and civil society is essential for its effective functioning and promoting transparency in India.
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Performance of Information Commissions In India: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/performance-of-information-commissions-in-india
Q. What role does the Central Information Commission (CIC) play in ensuring transparency and accountability within the Indian government, and what measures can be taken to address the challenges it faces in fulfilling its mandate effectively?