New Delhi, Jun 10: Former bureaucrat Vijai Sharma today took over the reins of Central Information Commission as its seventh chief, a post which had been lying vacant for nearly nine months leading to piling up of over 40,000 cases.
In his short stint till December, 64-year-old Sharma, a soft-spoken and upright IAS officer of the 1974-batch of UP cadre, will face the major challenge of clearing backlog of cases that have almost choked the Commission, which is short- staffed with three vacancies of information commissioners.
More than 15,000 cases and complaints are pending in the registry of the Chief Information Commissioner.
The clearing of cases could take at least three years if all the Commissioners are appointed and they dispose at least 2,000 pending cases every month, notwithstanding the new cases that keep pouring in. "The backlog of cases is indeed a problem and we have to find ways to address it," Sharma said.
Sharma, who holds Master's degrees in law from Harvard Law School and University College, London and bachelors from prestigious Lucknow University, helped in shaping the newly- constituted National Green Tribunal as an expert member.
During his stint as Joint Secretary in the Environment Ministry from 1995 to 2003, he drafted the UN 'Guidelines for Compliance with and Enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements' (2001) and the Delhi Ministerial Declaration on Climate Change and Sustainable Development (2002).
His expertise in environment sector made him a natural choice as Secretary, Environment Ministry, in his second stint from 2008 to 2010 under Minister Jairam Ramesh, during which the ministry was seen as asserting itself often on the verge of being criticised as "obstructionist" by industrialists.
Sharma was also instrumental in formulating the system for international emission trading and the Clean Development Mechanism as Coordinator and Spokesperson for the Group of 77 and China in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations (1995-2001).
He joined Central Information Commission on March 1, 2012 as information commissioner and remained part of some crucial judgments including the one on summoning political parties for compliance with the RTI Act.
The controversial decision saw him making detailed points indicating loopholes in the RTI Act which make the Commission toothless in case a public authority decides to ignore the directives given by it.
RTI activist Lokesh Batra has cited short tenure of Chief Information Commissioners as a reason behind poor disposal of cases saying in the past chiefs with short tenures disposed lesser number of cases than their colleagues who spent much more time at the post.