Chief Information Commissioner can transfer Commissioners: HC

The Bombay High Court has held that the State Chief Information Commissioner has powers under Right to Information Act (RTI) to transfer State Information Commissioner from one region to another for the purpose of ensuring that the Commission functions in a smooth manner.

This significant ruling was delivered by a bench headed by Justice V M Kanade, who recently held that the State Chief Information Commissioner has such powers under section 15(4) of RTI Act to transfer State Information Commissioners from one region to another.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by a Pune-based journalist Vijay Kumbhar challenging transfer of Ravindra Jadhav, State information Commissioner posted at Amravati, to another place.

Jadhav did not challenge his transfer but Kumbhar filed a petition challenging the transfer of Jadhav from Amravati to another place on the ground that the State Chief Information Officer had no powers under RTI Act to transfer State Information Commissioners.

The high court was satisfied that the petitioner was a responsible public activist and hence it permitted him to file this petition as a PIL.

“In our view, the State Chief Information Commissioner has powers under section 15 (4) of RTI Act to transfer State Information Commissioners from one place to another to ensure smooth functioning of the Commissions in the State,” the bench ruled.

“If there is any curb on his authority, the very aim and object of having the State Information Commission would be rendered nugatory and would be defeated. We do not see any substance in the petition,” said the bench.

“The petition is therefore dismissed and the interim order passed earlier stands vacated,” the bench ruled.

“It has to be remembered that the RTI Act was passed in order to ensure that there is transparency in the functioning of the Governments and their instrumentalities. In a democratic country, citizens are required to be informed about the manner in which the governments and their authorities function so that there is no scope for arbitrary action and also to contain corruption and lastly to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable,” the bench further observed.

HC stays order on probe into 26/11 call records

HC stays order on probe into 26/11 call records
HC stays order on probe into 26/11 call records

On a Maharashtra Government plea, the Bombay High Court has stayed an order of Chief Information Commissioner asking the state to hold an inquiry into the call data records of telephonic talks between police control room and wireless set of slain IPS officer Ashok Kamte during the 26/11 terror attacks.

“On due consideration of submissions advanced, in the light of provisions of Right to Information Act, we are of the view that contentions raised by the petitioners (government) as against the impugned order, require consideration,” said a bench of Justice V L Achliya and Justice Anoop Mohata.

“We are, therefore, of the view that a prima facie case has been made out to grant interim stay to the impugned order. We are inclined to grant adinterim stay till final disposal of the matter,” the Judges said in their order on June 17.

Kamte’s wife Vinita had under RTI sought call logs of wireless conversations between the police control room and her husband Ashok Kamate’s van in which he was killed along with Maharashtra ATS Chief Hemant Karkare and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar.

She alleged that the details were first denied to her. However, when the information was provided in November 2009 and February 2010 there were serious discrepencies. She then complained about this to the Chief Information Commissioner.

On July 9, 2014, Chief Information Commissioner, while dealing with the matter filed under the provisions of Right to Information Act, passed an order directing the state to conduct an enquiry into the matter through sitting or retired Judge, in accordance with Commission of Inquiry Act.

The state challenged the impugned order contending that the Chief Information Commissioner had no jurisdiction or competence to pass such an order directing the state to conduct an inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act.

The HC issued notice of final disposal to Vinita Kamte and other respondents. Further hearing will he held on July 30.

Senior lawyer Shekhar Naphade appeared for the state while no one appeared on behalf of Kamte’s wife.

SC stays part of its verdict on appointments in info panels

The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed its direction that only sitting or retired chief justices of High Courts or an apex court judge can head the Central and State Information Commissions.

A bench of justices A. K. Patnaik and A.K. Sikri also directed “that wherever a Chief Information Commissioner is of the opinion that intricate questions of law have to be decided in a matter…, he will ensure the matter is heard by a Bench of which at least one member has knowledge and experience in the field of law.”

The Bench however, made it clear that during pendency of the pleas challenging its judgment, authorities could continue to fill up the vacant positions in the Information Commissions in accordance with the Right to Information (RTI) Act and its verdict, except the portion which had been stayed.

The apex court passed the interim order, saying it would be subject to the outcome of the petitions filed by the Centre and others seeking review of its verdict on appointment of information commissioners.

“We make it clear that subject to orders that may be finally passed after hearing the review petitions, the competent authority will continue to fill up the vacant posts of information commissioners in accordance with the Act and in accordance with the judgement … except sub-paras which we have stayed.”

“This is to ensure that functioning of the Information Commissioners in accordance with the Act and the judgment is not affected during the pendency of the review petitions,” according to it.

The stayed sub-paras of the apex court’s September 13, 2012 ruling stipulated that the Information Commissions should work in Benches of two members and each Bench should comprise a legally trained member, who is to be appointed in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and Chief Justices of the High Courts of States concerned.

The Bench also clarified in its order that “the Chief Commissioners already functioning will continue to function until the disposal of the review petitions.”

 

PTI

Centre plea on info panel appointments has admitted by the Sumpreme Court

The Centre’s plea has been admitted by the Supreme Court to review its judgement which had stipulated that only sitting or retired chief justices of high courts or an apex court judge can head the Central and state information commissions.

While admitting the plea, a bench of justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar, however, made it clear its verdict for appointment of people from judicial background in information commissions was not aimed at rehabilitating judges but to make information panels independent of the government’s influence.

“Idea is not to rehabilitate judges but to ensure independence of the institutions,” the bench said adding “commissions must be headed by independent persons.”

The bench said the government appoint those persons in the commissions who are in its good book and asked as to how such favourites of government can pass orders against their appointing authority.

“You have to ensure that the body is independent. You find people, who are in good books of the government, are appointed. How would those persons pass order against the same authority who has appointed him,” the bench remarked.

The bench also said, “If Right to Information is to be effectively implemented then the commissions must be headed by a person independent of all authorities”

Agreeing to hear the Centre’s review petition, the bench issued notice to Namit Sharma, on whose plea the apex court had delivered its September 13 verdict.

The Centre had moved the apex court for review of its verdict saying it is against the provisions of the Right to Information Act.

The apex court had held in its verdict that like other quasi judicial bodies, people from judicial background should be appointed as members of the Central and state information commissions and this should be done after consulting the CJI and chief justices of the respective high courts.

It had directed the government to amend RTI Act for it.

“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 bench had passed the order on a PIL challenging sections 12 and 15 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 enumerating the qualifications needed for the appointment of members of the commissions.

The bench, however, had refused to quash the sections but asked the government to modify it so that people from judicial background are also preferred for the post.

Currently, none of the eight members of the Central Information Commission (CIC), including the Chief Information Commissioner, is from judicial background.

The CIC comprises one Chief Information Commissioner and 10 information commissioners.

Government withdraws RTI Act amendments

Under pressure from UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the Manmohan Singh government Thursday withdrew the controversial amendments aimed at diluting the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

“The cabinet decided to withdraw the amendments to the RTI Act”

The campaign against the amendments was led by activist Aruna Roy, a member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council.

The withdrawal of amendments would mean it would be possible for the citizens to ask for information related to file notings, except on issues about national security, privacy and protection of commercial interest. The amendments had sought to restrict disclosure of file notings only to social and developmental issues.

Nikhil Dey, who works closely with Aruna Roy on the RTI Act told “It is an important decision. The amendments would have killed the RTI Act and there would have been no transparency in governance”

Roy even met Gandhi on the government’s plans to dilute the act. Chief Information Commissioner Satyanand Mishra was also not in favour of the amendments, said sources.

The RTI Act was introduced during the previous UPA government to bring more transparency in governance and fight corruption.

Plea on political donations to be heard Sep 26

The chief information commissioner (CIC) will Sep 26 hear a plea asking political parties to give out information on donations received by them, said NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) Saturday.

The ADR approached the CIC in March 2011 as save for the Communist Party of India (CPI), no other national political party had provided information on its largest donors and the manner of such donations, said a release from the NGO.

“All national political parties, except for the CPI, declined to give the information on their largest donors,” said ADR.

It said while the CPI provided information about their largest donors, their addresses and the mode of payment of these donations other political parties either didn’t reply or simply said they did not come under the right to information (RTI), said the NGO.

The CPI said it was a public authority as the organisation was substantially financed directly or indirectly by government funds.

The Indian National Congress, however, returned the RTI letter saying that it did not come under the RTI, said the ADR.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party did not respond to the RTI application, the Nationalist Congress Party said it didn’t have enough manpower to provide the information.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist also returned the RTI application, said ADR.

The NGO said leaders of all political parties maintained that they were committed to transparency and probity in their functioning.

“These replies bring to the fore the biggest farce that our democracy is plagued with – the opaque functioning of political parties with no space for engagement with the citizens and no willingness to open themselves to public scrutiny,” said ADR.

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.

Appoint people with judicial background to CIC: SC

Holding that Central and state Information Commissions perform quasi-judicial functions, the Supreme Court today asked the government to appoint people from judicial background also as its members.

A bench of justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar also lifted the stay on appointment of information commissioners.

The bench passed the order on a PIL challenging section 12 and 15 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 enumerating the qualifications needed for the appointment of members to the commissions.

The bench, however, refused to quash the sections but asked the government to modify it so that people from judicial background are also preferred for the post.

Currently, none of the eight members of the Central Information Commission (CIC), including the Chief Information Commissioner are from judicial background.

The CIC comprises one Chief Information Commissioner and 10 Information Commissioners.

Presently, three posts of Information Commissioners are vacant in the CIC.

The petition filed by one Namit Sharma had contended that since the work of the CIC under the RTI Act is mainly connected with the law, members in the transparency panel should have judicial background.

However, government had opposed the petition contending that it could not be made mandatory that the members should have judicial background.

Governor not in RTI ambit? Court asks for affidavit

The Panaji bench of the Bombay High Court Monday asked the Goa governor to state on oath that he, the president of India and speakers of state assemblies have no executive powers and duties, giving them a shield against the transparency law.

The division bench of Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice F.M. Reis issued the direction to Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha, appearing for the Goa governor.

Tankha earlier said that the governor, the president and assembly speakers did not come under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The court was hearing an appeal of the Goa Raj Bhavan against the state chief information commissioner’s (CIC) ruling earlier this year that the office of the governor was a public authority covered under the transparency law.

The Raj Bhavan said the governor was not a “public authority”.The governor’s office contended that the Goa State Information Commission had not been properly constituted and that the CIC could not have heard the matter in the absence of another information commissioner.