CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION

CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION

To prepare for INDIAN POLITY for any competitive exam, aspirants have to know about Chief Information Commission(CIC). It gives an idea of all the important topics for the IAS Exam and the polity syllabus (GS-II.). Important Chief Information Commission(CIC ) terms are important from the polity and governance perspectives in the UPSC exam. IAS aspirants should thoroughly understand their meaning and application, as questions can be asked from this static portion of the IAS Syllabus in both the UPSC Prelims and the UPSC Mains exams.

In this article, you can read about the Basics, Background, Objectives, Composition, tenure, Functions etc about CIC  for the UPSC.

BACKGROUND
  • “Information is the currency of democracy”

Thomas Jefferson

  • Established by the Central Government in 2005.
  • Constituted through an Official Gazette Notification under the provisions of the Right to Information Act (2005)statutory (non-constitutional) body.
  • The RTI Act overrides the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
  • CIC will be an independent high-level body to act as appellate authority and vested with the powers of a civil court.
  • CIC comes under the ambit of Ministry of Personnel
  • CIC entertains complaints and appeals pertaining to offices, financial institutions, public sector undertakings, etc., under the Central Government and the Union Territories.

 

OBJECTIVES
  • To empower the citizens with information
  • To promote transparency and accountability
  • To contain corruption
  • To enhance people’s participation in the democratic process.

 

COMPOSITION
  • Consists of a Chief Information Commissioner and not more than ten Information Commissioners.
  • Appointed by the PRESIDENT OF INDIA  on the recommendation of a committee consisting of —
    1. Prime Minister as Chairperson,
    2. Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha
    3. Union Cabinet Minister (nominated by the Prime Minister)
  • Should be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.
  • Should not be a Member of Parliament or Member of the Legislature of any State or Union Territory.
  • Should not hold any other office of profit or connected with any political party or carrying on any business or pursuing any profession.

 

TENURE
  • The Chief Information Commissioner and an Information Commissioner shall hold office for such terms as prescribed by the Central Government or until they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They are not eligible for reappointment.
  • The Information Commissioner is eligible for appointment as Chief Information Commissioner but cannot hold office for more than a total of five years including his term as Information Commissioner.
  • The salary, allowances and other service conditions of the Chief Information Commissioner and an Information Commissioner shall be such as prescribed by the Central Government.
  • They cannot be varied to his disadvantage during service.

 

REMOVALS
  • President can remove the Chief Information Commissioner or any Information Commissioner from the office under the following circumstances:
    1. If he is adjudged an insolvent; or
    2. Convicted of an offence which (in the opinion of the President) involves a moral turpitude; or
    3. Engages during his term of office in any paid employment outside the duties of his office; or
    4. He is (in the opinion of the President) unfit to continue in office due to infirmity of mind or body; or
    5. Acquired such financial or other interest as is likely to affect prejudicially his official functions.
  • The President can also remove the Chief Information Commissioner or any Information Commissioner on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.
  • The President has to refer the matter to the SUPREME COURT for an enquiry.
  • If the Supreme Court, after the enquiry, upholds the cause of removal and advises so, then the President can remove him.

 

POWERS AND FUNCTIONS
  • It is the duty of the Commission to receive and inquire into a complaint from any person:
    1. who has not been able to submit an information request because of non-appointment of a Public Information Officer;
    2. who has been refused information that was requested;
    3. who has not received response to his information request within the specified time limits;
    4. who thinks the fees charged are unreasonable;
    5. who thinks information given is incomplete, misleading or false; and
    6. any other matter relating to obtaining information.
  • The Commission can order inquiry into any matter if there are reasonable grounds (suo-moto power).
  • While inquiring, the Commission has the powers of a civil court in respect of the following matters:
    1. summoning and enforcing attendance of persons and compelling them to give oral or written evidence on oath and to produce documents or things;
    2. requiring the discovery and inspection of documents;
    3. receiving evidence on affidavit
    4. requisitioning any public record from any court or office;
    5. any other matter which may be prescribed.
  • During the inquiry of a complaint, all public records must be given to the Commission during inquiry for examination.
  • The Commission has the power to secure compliance of its decisions from the public authority. This includes:
    1. providing access to information in a particular form;
    2. directing the public authority to appoint a Public Information Officer where none exists;
    3. publishing information or categories of information;
    4. making necessary changes to the practices relating to management, maintenance and destruction of records;
    5. enhancing training provision for officials on the right to information;
    6. seeking an annual report from the public authority on compliance with this Act;
    7. requiring the public authority to compensate for any loss or other detriment suffered by the applicant;
    8. imposing penalties under this Act; and
    9. Rejecting the application.
  • The Commission submits an annual report to the Central Govt. on the implementation of the provisions of this Act. The Central Govt. places this report before each House of Parliament.
  • When a public authority does not conform to the provisions of this Act, the Commission may recommend (to the authority) steps which ought to be taken for promoting such conformity.

 

 

SALIENT FEATURES OF RTI ACT, 2005
  • It provides for the appointment of an information officer in each department to provide information to the public on request.
  • It fixes a 30-day deadline for providing information; the deadline is 48 hours if information concerns the life or liberty of a person.
  • Information will be free for people below the poverty For others, the fee will be reasonable.
  • The Act imposes an obligation on public agencies to disclose the information suo-moto to reduce requests for information.
  • It provides for the establishment of a Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions. They will be independent high-level bodies to act as appellate authorities and vested with the powers of a civil court.
  • The jurisdiction of the Commission extends over all Central Public Authorities.
  • When it comes to the RTI Act, the CIC is the only appellate authority which may declare a body as public authority if it is convinced that the organization fits into the criteria for being under the RTI Act.
  • The Act overrides the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
  • The information commissions can allow access to the information if public interest outweighs harm to protected persons.
  • Any person who is a citizen of India can file an RTI application.
  • All categories of exempted information to be disclosed after 20 years except cabinet deliberations and information that affects security, strategic, scientific or economic interests, relations with foreign states or leads to incitement of offence.

 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) – providing everyone the right to seek, receive, information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

 

International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (1966) – everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, the freedom to seek and impart information and ideas of all kinds.

 

  • IMPORTANT SECTIONS OF RTI ACT 2005
Section Features
Section

1(2)

It extends to the whole of India
 

 

Section

2(f)

 

“Information” means any material in any form, and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a Public Authority under any other law for the time being in force.
Section

2(h)

States that “Public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted –

–          by or under the Constitution;

–          by any other law made by Parliament/State Legislature.

–          By notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes anybody a) owned, controlled or substantially   financed;

b)      NGO substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.

Section

2(j)

“Right to Information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to:

–          Inspection of work, documents, records;

–          Taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records;

–          Taking certified samples of material;

–          Obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.

Section 4 Suo-motu disclosure of information by each public authority.
Section 8

 

Exemption to certain Information –

–          National security or sovereignty

–          National economic interests

–          Relations with foreign states

–          Law enforcement and the judicial process

–          Cabinet and other decision-making documents

–          Trade secrets & commercial confidentiality

–          Individual safety

–          Personal privacy

 

Section 8 (2) Provides for disclosure of information exempted under Official Secrets Act, 1923 if larger public interest is served.

 

RTI VS RIGHT TO PRIVACY
  • Conceptually, RTI and the right to privacy are both complementary as well as in conflict to each other.
  • While RTI increases access to information, the right to privacy protects it instead.
  • At the same time they both function, as citizen rights safeguarding liberty, against state’s overreach.
  • When the question of harmonising the contradicting rights arises, it should give justice to the larger public interest and advancement of the public morality

 

OFFICIAL SECRET ACT (OSA) 1923

Context – The GoI threatened to invoke the Official Secrets Act and initiate “criminal action” against the two publications that had run reports on the Rafale deal.

 

  • The law meant for ensuring secrecy and confidentiality in governance, mostly on national security and espionage issues.
  • The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1904 was enacted during the time of Lord Curzon (from 1899 to 1905)
  • One of the main purposes of the Act was to muzzle the voice of nationalist publications.
  • The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act No XIX of 1923) replaced the earlier Act, and was extended to all matters of secrecy and confidentiality in governance in the country.

 

RTI VS OFFICIAL SECRET ACT (OSA)
  • Whenever there is a conflict between the two laws, the provisions of the RTI Act override those of the OSA.
  • Section 22 of the RTI Act states that its provisions will have effect notwithstanding anything that is inconsistent with them in the OSA.
  • Under Section 8(2) of the RTI Act, a public authority may allow access to information covered under the OSA, “if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interest”.

 

In 2006, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) recommended that OSA be repealed, and replaced with a chapter in the National Security Act containing provisions relating to official secrets, calling OSA incongruous with the regime of transparency in a democratic society.

 

CHALLENGES TO RTI
  • Different types of information is sought which has no public interest and sometimes can be used to misuse the law and harass the public authorities. For example-
    • Asking for desperate and voluminous
    • To attain publicity by filing RTI
    • RTI filed as vindictive tool to harass or pressurize the public authority
  • Because of the illiteracy and unawareness among the majority of the population in the country, the RTI cannot be exercised.
  • Though RTI’s aim is not to create a grievance redressal mechanism, the notices from Information Commissions often spur the public authorities to redress grievances.
  • Information commissioners do not have adequate authorities to enforce the RTI Act.
  • In case of award of compensation to activists by public authority as ordered by commission, compliance cannot be secured.
  • Poor record-keeping practices
  • Lack of adequate infrastructure and staff for running information commissions
  • Dilution of supplementary laws like the whistle-blower protection Act.

 

WAYS TO STRENGTHEN INFORMATION INSTITUTION
  • Reduce pendency – To begin with, the government could take steps to reduce pending appeals.
  • Prune the exemption list – Section 8 of the RTI Act lists ten exemptions, ranging from any information that may hurt national security, impede the process of ongoing investigations to cabinet papers and deliberations of the council of ministers. Section 24 of the RTI Act allows (the) government to increase the list of exemptions by an executive order. To strengthen the RTI Act, this should be only allowed through the legislature.
  • Protect whistle-blowers – According to a tracker of assaults on RTI activists set up by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), around 90 RTI activists have been murdered since 2005 for seeking information on illegal construction, alleged scams in social welfare schemes, and corruption in panchayats. While seven activists have committed suicide, more than 350 have either faced assault or harassment. The central government should enforce the WhistleBlowers Protection Act enacted by the Parliament in 2014.
  • Making CIC as a constitutional body – As RTI is safeguarding a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution – Art. 19 (1)(a) – the government should seriously look into the possibility of elevating the information commission to the status of a constitutional authority.
  • Political parties under RTI – In 2013, the CIC had declared six national political parties as public authorities under the RTI Act and ordered them to make voluntary disclosures and respond to information requests. However, all parties refused to comply with the decision, prompting the petitioners in the case to approach the Supreme Court in 2015, which is still hearing the case.

 

AMENDMENT TO THE RTI ACT, 2019

NEWS – Recently, the Parliament passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019.

  • Removal of fixed term– As per the act, the CIC and ICs will hold office for a term of five years. The Amendment removes this provision and states that the central government will notify the term of office for the CIC and the ICs.
  • Determination of Salary– As per the act, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, Similarly, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary respectively.
  • The Amendment empowers the Central Government to determine the salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of the central and state CIC and ICs.
  • It grants absolute power to the Government to decide “conditions of service” which are not expressly covered under the Rules (in exercise of residuary powers).
  • In such cases, the decision of the Central Government is binding upon the ICs.
  • Government has “power to relaxthe applicability of provisions of rules.

 

ISSUES WITH THE AMENDMENT
  • These amendments will lead to the dismantling of transparency architecture as they empower the Central government to unilaterally decide tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of Information Commissioners (both at the Centre and the States).
  • These amendments fundamentally weaken an important part of the RTI architecture.
  • They violate the constitutional principles of federalism, undermine the independence of Information Commissions, and thereby significantly dilute the widely used framework for transparency in India.

 

The Right to Information Rating is a programme founded by Access Info Europe (AIE) and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and is conducted by Transparency International.

 

POLITICAL PARTIES UNDER RTI ACT, 2005

The PIL was filed in the Supreme court arguing that political parties registered with Election Commission to be brought under section 29A of Representation of People Act, 1951 to be declared as ‘public authority’ under the RTI Act, 2005

Six national parties – the BJP, the Congress, the BSP, the NCP, the CPI and the CPI(M) were brought under the ambit of the RTI Act by a full bench of the Central Information Commission in 2013. (Trinamool Congress was also recognised as the seventh national party in 2016). However, the political parties have refused to entertain the RTI applications directed at them.

Several activists have approached the Supreme Court on the grounds of non-compliance of the CIC order and the matter is pending.

 

Argument in Favour Argument Against
Need to ensure Transparency in Funding

 

Sprouting and deepening of crony capitalism in political discourse.

 

Black money – According to ADR, 34% of the donations have been received with no address or any other detail of the donor

 

Illicit foreign contributions – National parties have been accepting foreign contributions despite The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 1976,

 

Political parties are vital organs of the State – According to CIC, critical role played by these political parties point towards their public character.

 

Political parties are public authorities – The CIC held that political parties enjoy various benefits directly or indirectly like land for offices of political parties on concessional rates, allotment of free time on Doordarshan/All India Radio and supplying electoral roll copies free of cost during elections

 

Larger Public Interest – The disclosure of the information is in larger public interest.

 

170th report of the Law Commission of India on reform of the electoral laws recommended to introduce internal democracy, financial transparency and accountability in the working of the political parties.

 

 

Obstruct party functioning – Political parties cannot disclose their internal functioning and financial information under the Act as it will hamper their smooth functioning.

 

RTI can be a tool of misuse – RTI can become a weak spot and rivals with malicious intentions may take advantage of RTI.

 

Not ‘public authorities’ – Political parties are not established or constituted by or under the Constitution or by any other law made by Parliament. Even the registration of a political party under the 1951 Act was not the same as establishment of a government body.

 

Transparency provisions for parties already exist in the Income Tax Act, 1961, and Representation of the People Act, 1951, which demand “necessary transparency regarding financial aspects of political parties.

 

Information in public domain – Government holds the view that required information about a political body is already in the public domain on the website of the Election Commission.

 

Not envisaged in the RTI Act – According to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) when the RTI Act was enacted, it was never visualised that political parties would be brought within the ambit of the transparency law.

CONCLUSION – Considering the role played by the political parties in our democracy, it is important that their working be transparent in such a manner that induces trust in the whole election process. Given the fact that existing laws have not performed upto the mark in regulating the working of political parties, bringing them under the RTI with certain safeguards seems to be a logical step.

 

WAY FORWARD
  • Money should not be given to political parties as this creates a nexus between the funders and the political parties, thus affecting policy formulation in the country. Instead, a National Election Fund should be created for receiving donations from people.
  • Eliminating the root cause of the requirement of money, i.e. banning election rallies and roadshows, but direct connect with people needs to be ensured. Replacing them by live T.V. Debates are an option.
  • The ‘First Past the Post System’,in which a person with the highest votes (even with one extra vote) is declared winner, should be changed. Rather, a minimum percentage of total votes polled, should be fixed for declaring a candidate winner.
  • Flow of black money into the election process needs to be taken care of.

 

RECENT JUDGEMENTS RELATED TO RTI

In the Central public information officer, Supreme Court of India vs Subhash Chandra Agarwal case a five-judge Constitution Bench of Supreme Court (SC) declared that the Office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of RTI Act.

 

Information can be disclosed Information cannot be disclosed
Information about personal assets of judges and CJI is not a violation of their right to privacy.

 

Names of judges recommended by the Collegium.

Reasons cited by collegium for recommendation of judges

 

Information protected under Section 8 of RTI Act

 

In D.A.V. College Trust and Management Society Vs. Director of Public Instructions case Supreme Court ruling has brought NGOs receiving funds from the governments under the ambit of RTI Act.

  • Currently, NGOs are regulated under the provisions of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA Act).
  • This ruling would mean that NGOs will have to maintain records as provided under the RTI Act, and every citizen will have the right to get information from them.

 

RTI AND JUDICIARY
  • The RTI Act conferred powers on the Chief justice of the Supreme Court of India and the chief justices of high courts of states for carrying out its provisions, and all these courts framed their own rules.
  • However, the Supreme Court Rules undermined the RTI in four key ways. Unlike the RTI Act, the Rules do not provide for:
  • a time frame for furnishing information
  • an appeal mechanism
  • penalties for delays or wrongful refusal of information
  • makes disclosures to citizens contingent upon “good cause shown”
  • The RTI Act does not permit any appeals to be entertained by any court under Section 23. Nevertheless, the contradiction arises from the fact that the Indian Constitution gives powers to the Supreme Court and the high courts that override any statute.
  • Further, SC has said that the decision of the Registrar General of the Court will be final and not subject to any independent appeal to the Central Information Commission.

 

BCCI AS PUBLIC AUTHORITY
  • Central Information Commission affirms the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is covered under the RTI Act and answerable to the people of the country.
  • After going through the orders of the Supreme Court, the Law Commission of India report, submissions of the Central Public Information Officer in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, the Commission has concluded that the status, nature and functional characteristics of the BCCI fulfil required conditions to come under the ambit of RTI Act.
  • Section 2(h) of the Act defines criteria under which a body can be declared as public authority under the RTI Act.
  • This represents a broader and more contemporary view of the jurisprudence backing the application of public laws to prima facie ‘private’ bodies in sport.

 

JAN SOOCHNA PORTAL
  • Recently, Jan Soochana Portal was launched by the Rajasthan State Government.
  • The portal has been developed by the Department of Information Technology and Communication (DoIT&C) in collaboration with civil society and other stakeholders.
  • It is the first of its kind system in the country and has 48 information about 23 government schemes and services from 13 departments on a single platform.
  • The initiative is inspired by the spirit of Section 4 (2) of Right to Information Act, 2005, i.e. Proactive Disclosure of Information.

 

 

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