SC moved for review of verdict seeking judges on RTI panels

The central government Thursday moved the Supreme Court seeking the review of its verdict directing amendment of the RTI Act for the appointment of judges, serving or retired, and people with judicial background on the central and state information panels.

The government, in its review petition, contended that the court could not have directed it or parliament to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act making way for the appointment of retired or sitting judges or people with judicial background on the Information panels.

The petition said that the apex court judgment runs contrary to the RTI act.
The Sep 13 judgment had said: “There is an absolute necessity for the legislature to reword or amend the provisions of Section 12(5), 12(6) and 15(5), 15(6) of the Act. We observe and hope that these provisions would be amended at the earliest by the legislature to avoid any ambiguity or impracticability and to make it in consonance with the constitutional mandates.”

Having directed the RTI act’s amendment, the judgment said: “We are of the considered view that the competent authority should prefer a person who is or has been a Judge of the High Court for appointment as Information Commissioners. Chief Information Commissioner at the Centre or State level shall only be a person who is or has been a Chief Justice of the High Court or a Judge of the Supreme Court of India.”

The judgment, pronounced by a bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice Swatanter Kumar, held that the Central and State Information Commissions perform quasi-judicial functions thus they should be headed and manned by retired judges or people with judicial background.

“We are of the considered view that it is an unquestionable proposition of law that the Commission is a ‘judicial tribunal’ performing functions of ‘judicial’ as well as ‘quasi-judicial’ nature and having the trappings of a Court,” they said.

Holding that the Commission was a judicial forum, the court said: “It is an important cog and is part of the court attached system of administration of justice, unlike a ministerial tribunal which is more influenced and controlled and performs functions akin to the machinery of administration.”

The court had said that it would render the adjudicatory process which involves critical legal questions and nuances of law, more adherent to justice and shall enhance the public confidence in the working of the Commission.

DoPT seeks advice on court’s verdict on info panel

The Department of Personnel and Traininghas sought the Law Ministry’s advice on the Supreme Courtverdict making it mandatory for the hearings in Central and State Information Commissions to be carried out by people with judicial backgrounds.

“We have held inter-departmental discussions with officials concerned on the Apex court decision. The department has decided to seek advice from Law Ministry on the matter,” a Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) official said.

Based on the legal advice, the official said, the future course on whether or not to go for appeal against the order will be decided.

“The legal advice is expected in few days,” the official said.

On September 13, the Supreme Court had passed the order making it mandatory for the transparency panels at the respective levels to have at least one judicial member while hearing appeals or complaints of information seekers under RTI Act.

At present, the eight-member CIC does not have any such member who possess qualifications listed out by the apex court.

The CIC, meanwhile, has sent a representation to the DoPT, the nodal department for implementation of RTI Act, seeking further directives on the matter.

The apex court had ruled that Information Commissions at the respective levels shall henceforth work in benches of two members each. One of them being a judicial member, while the other an expert member. The judicial member should be a person possessing a degree in law, having a judicially trained mind and experience in performing judicial functions.

It had also said the Chief Information Commissioner at the Centre or in the states shall only be a person who is or has been a Chief Justice of the high court or a judge of the Supreme Court.