Information commissions in India male-dominated: study
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has released a study that takes stock of the functioning of the information commissions in India, which it said are male-dominated and far away from meeting their full potential.
The study, A Rapid Study of Information Commissions – Established Under the Right to Information Laws in India, was released on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the passage of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) in parliament, on May 12.
CHRI’s research team conducted a quick study of the membership of all 29 information commissions (including that of Jammu and Kashmir established under the J&K RTI Act in 2010) against seven parameters.
The findings show that information commissions are far away from meeting their full potential and are male-dominated. Not one woman of eminence has been appointed chief information commissioner anywhere in India. Less than 15 percent of the information commissioners were women.
At least 30 percent of the posts of information commissioners around the country were lying vacant as on May 1, 2012. This includes posts of state chief information commissioner posts in Maharashtra, Manipur and Tripura. Only 83 information commissioners and chief information commissioners had been appointed against 117 posts all over the country. The state information commissions of Jharkhand (six), Tamil Nadu (four) Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh (three each) top the vacancy list.
In 2006-07, a little more than half of the posts in information commissions were occupied by retired civil servants. In 2012, two-thirds of these posts had been cornered by retired civil servants, particularly those from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). The case of Haryana is even more interesting as 50 percent of the membership of the Haryana state information commission is made up of a husband-and-wife team that retired from the IAS.
The J&K state information commission is the only multi-member body to buck the trend of having retired IAS officers on board.
Less than 10 percent of the information commissioners are from the field of journalism and mass media. Governments seem reluctant to trust the eminence and expertise of citizens who have never been civil servants in their lives.
Of serious concern is the fact that three information commissioners served as members of political parties prior to their appointment (in Kerala, Nagaland and Punjab). The RTI Act bars members of the information commissions from being affiliated to political parties. It is not known whether they resigned from the primary membership of the political party before taking on their current jobs.
All information commissions except that of Mizoram have dedicated websites but less than 50 percent of them have uploaded their decisions in appeals and complaints cases disposed until date. Similarly, more than 50 percent of the state information commissions do not display the cause list of cases on their websites. Section 25 of the Central RTI Act makes it mandatory for information commissions to prepare annual reports on the implementation of the law in their jurisdiction. The state information commissions of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu have not uploaded any annual report on their website until date.
While underlining the need for governments at the central and state level to work closely with advocators of transparency to assess the pendency of cases in the information commissions, CHRI Director Maja Daruwala stated, “The size of the information commission should be determined on the basis of objective criteria”. She also stated, “Public access to all decisions of information commissions must become the policy instead of being left to the caprice of the information commissioners.”
Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator at the Access to Information Programme, who led the CHRI research team stated, “Governments and civil society must work together to identify objective criteria for determining the suitability of candidates other than retired civil servants for appointment to the information commissions. The RTI Act intended to provide a diversity of life experience to such bodies from the fields of science, technology, law, management, social service and mass media whereas practice has turned them into parking lots for retired civil servants who are sympathetic to the political establishment.