With over 9,000 cases pending before State Information Commission, Telangana govt calls for applications to fill vacancies

More than four months after five State Information Commissioners (SIC) demitted office in Telangana, and more than 8 months after the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) demitted office, the Telangana government on Tuesday indicated its intent to constitute a new panel for the State Information Commission (TSIC). On Monday, the general administration department issued a notification inviting applications from eligible candidates for the post of Chief State Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioner. It sought applications with necessary documents to be submitted before 5 pm on August 4. Meanwhile, more than 9,000 cases have piled up before the Commission in these months owing to its non-functioning. Asked about a day at work in the absence of information commissioners, a staff member said they come to the office every day and segregate files. “Since there are no hearings, no cases are disposed of. We close old files and send them for printing and then to the record room. We are receiving new applications every day besides second appeals. All these are segregated based on the departments and districts concerned so that whenever new commissioners take charge, they can start work right away,” he said. The last Chief Information Commissioner Buddha Murali, who worked as a SIC for three years and took over charge from previous CIC Raja Sadaram Soma on his completion of tenure in October 2020, demitted office in September 2022, after serving five years in the Commission. The three-year tenure of five other Information Commissioners – Katta Shekar Reddy, Guguloth Shankar Naik, Syed Khaleelullah, Myda Narayana Reddy, and Mohd. Amer – ended on February 24, 2023. As per the Right To Information Act, the state’s CIC and SICs are appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of a three-member committee comprising the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, and a state Cabinet Minister. Besides the CIC, a state can have as many as 10 SICs. The Commission, before the six members demitted office, used to receive an average of 200 new applications a day and during the last calendar year, it disposed of 7,000 plus cases. According to officials, as many as 6,000 second appeals and 3,000 direct complaints are pending hearing and disposal as of date. “The current backlog of 9,000 cases can be disposed of in six to seven months. Each SIC hears about 50 cases a week and with a full quorum of six commissioners, 1,400 cases can be disposed of in a month,” an official said on condition of anonymity. “But then, it depends on the interest and enthusiasm of the new Commissioners,” he added. Advertisement RTI activist Kareem Ansari, associated with the online RTI portal youRTI.in, said if the government wanted, they would have appointed new SICs in no time. “RTI is a tool to get a time-bound response. If a case is already pending disposal for the last five or six months, I am likely to get the information in another year by when the information received will be of no use. The purpose of the Act is undermined if the information is not available in 3 months,” he said. He added that “these time delaying tactics are meant to weaken the Act and suppress information.” At least 15 second appeals filed by Ansari, concerning different departments, are pending for hearing before the Commission. M Padmanabha Reddy, the secretary of Forum For Good Governance (FGG), filed a public interest litigation before the High Court in May asking for the Court’s intervention in the appointment of Information Commissioners without delay. Reddy felt that the government has now called for applications for the posts under pressure from the Court. Reddy said the government sees only a “nuisance value” and hence is not interested in the functioning of TSIC. Advertisement “The Court has asked the government to respond with a concrete proposal for action by July 5, Wednesday. It seems the applications are called under pressure from the Court. At least the first step is taken now. Hopefully, the process will be over in another 3 months,” Reddy said. According to him, three months before the end of the tenure of five SICs, the Secretary of the Commission had written to the state government about the same so that steps be taken for the constitution of a new panel. The Secretary, however, refused to comment. Over the last several months, the FGG has raised another concern regarding the appointment of new Commissioners in their representations to the government. “It should see that worn-out politicians and political activists are not appointed. The nominees should be independent so that if necessary they could put pressure on the officials concerned and pass on information to applicants without biases,” Reddy added.