The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Centre and seven states to fill up the vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the state level bodies in a time-bound manner.
The top court also asked the Centre to explain why the posts in CIC, for which an advertisement was issued in 2016, still remain vacant.
A bench of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan expressed concern over the vacancies in CIC and State Information Commissions (SICs) and asked the governments to file affidavits within four weeks, giving complete details -- the number of vacancies and the timeline for completing the appointment process.
Posting the matter for hearing after four weeks, the court clarified that no further time will be given for filing affidavits and any failure will be viewed seriously.
The seven states are Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Kerala, Odisha, and Karnataka.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Right To Information activist Anjali Bhardwaj, told the bench that there are four vacancies in the CIC and four more will be created by December 2018. The court said it will ensure that the posts of information commissioners are filled.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, appearing for the Centre, said that another advertisement has been released recently for filling up the four vacancies in the CIC.
The court had earlier asked the Centre why the appointments were not being made despite a huge backlog of 23,500 appeals and complaints were pending in the CIC.
The court is hearing a PIL filed by rights activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Air Commodore Lokesh K. Batra and Amrita Johri on the CIC and SIC vacancies.
"The government of India and the state governments have attempted to stifle the implementation of the RTI Act by failing to perform their statutory duty of ensuring the appointment of Commissioners in the CIC and SICs in a timely manner," the PIL said.
Pointing out that the CIC and the SICs were set up to decide on appeals and complaints against public authorities for non-compliance with the RTI Act, 2005, the petitioners contended that the "proper functioning of these institutions is essential for its effective implementation".
While the Andhra Pradesh SIC is non-functional in the absence of any Information Commissioner, Maharashtra SIC has four vacancies and a backlog of 40,000 appeals and complaints.
In Kerala, there are 14,000 pending appeals and complaints. There is just one Information Commissioner and six vacancies.
Karnataka has a backlog of 33,000 appeals and complaints.
Odisha is functioning with only three Information Commissioners while Telangana has two Information Commissioners. They have backlogs of more than 10,000 and 15,000 appeals/complaints respectively.
The West Bengal SIC is functioning with only two Commissioners and is hearing appeals/complaints filed 10 years ago, the PIL said.
The petitioners said that the Information Commissions in Gujarat, Nagaland, and Maharashtra are functioning without their respective heads, even though under the RTI Act they have a crucial role in the administration and superintendence of the commissions.