Process to appoint CIC should be same as chief election commissioner: Supreme Court

 The Supreme Court on Friday passed a slew of directions on filling up vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and state information commissions (SICs) and said the process of appointments must start one to two months before a post falls vacant.

A bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and S A Nazeer said the post of a chief information commissioner is on a higher pedestal and the appointment process for a CIC should be on the “same terms” as in the process of a chief election commissioner.

The apex court also took note of the existing vacancies in CIC and SICs and directed authorities to fill them up within six months.

Taking note of the provisions in the RTI Act, it said besides bureaucrats, eminent citizens from other walks of life should also be considered for the post of information commissioners in the CIC.

Earlier, the apex court had asked the Centre as to why only retired or sitting bureaucrats were being shortlisted by the search committee for appointment as information commissioners.

The top court was told by the government that chief information commissioner and four information commissioners have already been appointed while the process for appointing other information commissioners was underway.

The apex court was hearing a plea filed by RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) and Amrita Johri who have claimed that over 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending with the CIC as posts of information commissioners are lying vacant.

The apex court had earlier asked the Centre and states to maintain transparency in appointments of chief information commissioner and information commissioners and upload details of search committees and applicants on the website.

In July last year, the top court had expressed concern over vacancies at the chief information commission and state information commissions and had directed the Centre and seven states to file an affidavit giving a time schedule for filling up the posts.

The court had asked seven states — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Kerala, Odisha and Karnataka — to apprise it about the time frame for filling up the posts.

The petitioners have said that several information commissions like in Gujarat and Maharashtra were functioning without the chief information commissioner, even though the RTI Act envisages a crucial role for this post on which the administration and superintendence of commission is vested.

The plea has claimed that the Centre and state governments have “attempted to stifle” the functioning of the RTI Act by failing to do their statutory duty of ensuring appointments in a timely manner.

MP High Court: Wife has the right to know husband’s salary details

A woman had the right to know the remuneration of her husband, the Madhya Pradesh High Court has observed.

A High Court bench of Justices SK Seth and Nandita Dubey made the observation while hearing the petition of Sunita Jain who had sought a higher maintenance amount from her estranged husband claiming that he was a senior officer with state-run BSNL.

Counsel for the petitioner, KC Ghildiyal, said Sunita Jain had pleaded that her estranged husband, Pawan Kumar Jain, was a senior officer of the BSNL and was drawing a high salary while she was being given a monthly maintenance of just Rs 7,000 per month.

After a trial court rejected Sunita’s plea that her husband produce his pay slip, she had filed a Right to Information plea to get his salary details.

The issue reached the Central Information Commission, which, in an order dated July 27, 2007, asked the Central Public Information Officer of BSNL to furnish the details of Pawan Kumar Jain’s monthly remuneration, Ghildiyal said.

The husband, however, challenged the CIC order before a single bench of the MP high court which set aside the CIC order in March 2015.

Ghildiyal said that Sunita Jain then moved the double bench of the high court which observed that a wife was entitled to know the remuneration of her husband.

The HC bench of Justices SK Seth and Nandita Dubey stated that the wife couldn’t be denied this information by considering her a third party.

While setting aside the single bench order, the double bench, in an order on May 15, allowed the writ appeal and upheld the CIC order.

Centre in High Court against CIC order on Khemka’s deputation

The Centre has moved the Delhi High Court against a CIC order asking it to inform whether IAS officer Ashok Khemka, known for cancelling Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s alleged illegal land deal in Gurgaon, was considered for the post of joint secretary in the Centre.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) in its plea has also challenged a single judge’s order upholding the January 2017 decision of the Central Information Commission (CIC).

The CIC in its order had directed DoPT to disclose whether the name of Khemka, an IAS officer of 1991 batch of the Haryana state cadre, was placed before the Civil Services Board (CSB) for deputation as joint secretary to Government of India under the Central Staffing Scheme of 2014.

The matter is expected to be heard by a bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and A K Chawla in July.

The appeal by the DoPT, moved through advocates Rahul Sharma and C K Bhatt, has claimed that the information sought by Khemka, also known for the numerous times he has been transferred, was exempted from the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The plea also claimed that the information sought is held in fiduciary capacity by the DoPT and therefore, cannot be provided under the RTI Act.

However, this line of argument had not been accepted by the single judge, Justice Vibhu Bakhru, who last year had said that if the DoPT’s stand was accepted then any information held by any public authority would be exempted.

Seeking bank employees’ personal info exempted under RTI: SC

The Supreme Court has held that seeking information about individual bank employees which were personal in nature and devoid of any public interest, was exempted under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The court made the observation while allowing an appeal filed by Canara Bank challenging an order of the Kerala High Court directing it to provide information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act about transfers and postings of its entire clerical staff from January 2002 to July 2006.

Relying on an 2013 apex court verdict, a bench comprising Justices R K Agrawal and A M Sapre said the information sought by a man, who was working as a clerical staff in the bank, was “personal in nature” and exempted from being disclosed under section 8(j) of the RTI Act.

It said neither the man had “disclosed any public interest much less larger public interest involved in seeking such information of the individual employee” nor any finding was recorded by Central Information Commission (CIC) and the high court regarding any public interest in supplying such information to him.

He had in August 2006 made an application to the public information officer (PIO) of the bank under the RTI Act and sought information regarding transfers and postings of the entire clerical staff from January 2002 to July 2006 in all the branches.

He had also asked for information regarding personal details of individual employees like date of joining, designation and promotion earned.

The bank’s PIO had expressed his inability to furnish details sought by him on the ground that it was protected from being disclosed under the provisions of the Act and had no nexus with any public interest.

The man had thereafter filed an appeal before the chief public information officer who also dismissed it.

Later, he moved the CIC which in February 2007 asked the bank to furnish the information sought by him.

Aggrieved by the order, the bank approached the high court which dismissed its plea while affirming the order of the CIC.

The top court allowed the appeal filed by the bank while setting aside the orders of the high court and the CIC.

No power to CIC to order jails to pay damages: Delhi HC

No power to CIC to order jails to pay damages: Delhi HC
No power to CIC to order jails to pay damages: Delhi HC

Central Information Commission (CIC) does not have the power to direct Tihar Jail to develop a system of compensating inmates who have been incarcerated beyond their period of sentence, Delhi High Court has held.

“Prima facie, this power does not vest in the CIC,” Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva said while staying operation of the September 29, 2016 decision of the Commission asking Tihar Jail authorities to frame a policy to resolve disputes regarding remission and paying compensation to prisoners who lost their personal liberty due to detention beyond the sentence awarded to them.

The court’s order came on a plea by jail authorities who contended that the transparency panel has exceeded its jurisdiction under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 and appeared to have exercised the powers of a court.

CIC’s decision had come on a plea by RTI applicant Om Prakash Gandhi who had claimed that he had spent four days more in Tihar Jail than what was ordered by the court.

The commission had directed that Gandhi should be paid a token compensation by the prison authorities at the rate of Rs 2500 per day along with an additional Rs 1000 for costs borne by him.

“Perusal of the order, prima facie, shows that the CIC has sought to exercise powers beyond those conferred on it under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The CIC, by the impugned order, had assessed compensation calculated per day of the alleged extra detention of the respondent and directed the petitioner to frame a policy or guideline or regulations for a system of resolving disputes regarding remission and payment of compensation to prisoners whose release is delayed on account of certain reasons.

It also issued notice to Gandhi and sought his response by May 1, the next date of hearing.

The court, however, clarified that “the pendency of the present petition and the order will not come in the way of respondent No.1 (Gandhi) seeking appropriate remedies in law before an appropriate forum”.

( Source – PTI )

Order to reveal IB report on whistle-blower stayed

Order to reveal IB report on whistle-blower stayed
Order to reveal IB report on whistle-blower stayed

Delhi High Court today stayed an order of the Chief Information Commission (CIC) directing the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to make public its report on alleged harassment of whistle-blower IFoS officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi.

Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva stayed the operation of CIC’s April 21 order till the next date of hearing on August 9 on the IB’s plea challenging the decision.

The court said the issues of harassment and corruption raised in the matter required consideration and asked the Indian Forest Service officer to reply to the IB’s plea.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain, appearing for IB, submitted that the agency was exempt from providing information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act even if it was sought by Chaturvedi in his own case.

While section 24 of RTI exempts intelligence and security organisations from the purview of the transparency law, a proviso (exception) to the section states that this exemption is not extended to material held by or under the control of such organisations, which pertained to allegations of human rights violations or corruption.

On April 21, CIC had directed IB to provide its report on the alleged harassment of Chaturvedi, saying it pertained to allegations of human rights violations and corruption.

Chaturvedi, who had exposed an alleged forestry scam in Haryana, had sought a copy of the IB report which was sent to Cabinet Secretary and the Ministry of Environment and Forests in August 2014 on the issue of allegedly “foisting false cases against him in retaliation to his investigation and reports against major corruption in the state”.

CIC in its order had observed that Chaturvedi was being harassed, his rights were being breached, false cases were foisted and thus it was, beyond doubt, a case of “corruption and human rights violation”, sufficient enough to invoke the proviso to section 24 to approve disclosure of IB report, since that pertains to corruption and human rights violation.

( Source – PTI )

Maintain daily order sheet: Delhi High Court directs CIC

Maintain daily order sheet: Delhi High Court directs CIC
Maintain daily order sheet: Delhi High Court directs CIC

Delhi High Court has directed the Central Information Commission to maintain daily order sheets following complaints that while appellants contentions were agreed upon during hearing, these were dismissed when final orders are passed by the transparency panel.

“Since the CIC is a quasi-judicial body, this Court was also of the view that its records must reflect a true and correct state of affairs. Even the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Fruit Merchant Union vs Chief Information Commissioner and Others…had directed the State Information Commission to maintain daily order sheets,” Justice Manmohan said in his order.

The CIC which had been resisting the move agreed to maintain daily order sheets, but sought time to evolve a procedure on which the High Court gave it six months.

“Keeping in view the aforesaid request, this Court is of the view that the Central Information Commission must start maintaining daily order sheets within a period of six months from today,” the judge said.

The order came on a plea of activist R K Jain who had complained that during hearing his appeal was allowed, but in the order which was passed by CIC after a long delay, the appeal was dismissed.

“The said Writ Petition also brought out such allegations against the CIC by other appellants. The CIC has been resisting the maintenance of the Record of Proceedings despite the orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case of Fruit and Merchant Union vs CIC,” he told PTI.

Jain said the latest order of Delhi High Court shall bring in transparency and stability in the working of the CIC.

He said it is hoped that the CIC shall place such daily order sheets on its website as is being done by other Tribunals including CAT, National Green Tribunal, Telecom Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal for Electricity, Competition Appellate Tribunal and Armed Forces Tribunal.

RTI activist Subhash Agrawal welcomed the decision saying it will stop the practice of reversing position of CIC during the hearing and in final order.

“There are number of instances faced by me when former CIC … agreed on something during hearing but in the orders issued six-eight months later changed the position completely. This was happening inspite of noting being made at three places — intern, Commissioner himself and steno of the Commissioner,” he said.

( Source – PTI )

Information on SC benches may arouse regional feelings: CIC

Disclosure of information related to setting of Supreme Court benches outside Delhi may “arouse regional feelings” and create “needless political controversy” resulting in law and order problem, the CIC has held allowing the apex court to withhold it.

“We find force in the arguments of the respondent that the information sought, if disclosed at this stage, could lead to needless controversy of a political nature, which should best be avoided taking into account the need for efficient functioning of the Supreme Court,” the Full Bench said.

Appellant Rajiv Rufus from Madurai has sought information inter alia about the copies of minutes of the meeting of the Full Court of the Supreme Court, the file notings and letters sent by the Chief Justice of India to the Parliamentary Standing Committee relating to the setting up of benches of the Supreme Court outside Delhi.

Supreme Court had rejected to disclose the information, saying opinions in the Full Court meeting are expressed confidentially by the judges in the course of discussions and divulging these would make the system unworkable in practice.

Intervening in the matter, another activist R K Jain said during the hearing that comments or views expressed at the full court meetings are not personal and are part of the decision making process in a matter.

“The question is about openness of the views expressed and mere confidentiality is not a ground to claim exemption… right to justice is a fundamental right and since the Supreme Court is functioning only from Delhi, everybody has to come to Delhi to file or defend the case before it,” Jain submitted before the Commission.

He said that in the interest of democracy and transparency, the minutes of the various committees of the Supreme Court cannot be withheld.

Bill to amend RTI Act likely in parliament Monday

The government is Monday likely to introduce in the Lok Sabha a bill to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act to keep political parties out of its ambit, informed sources said.
The issue has been in the limelight after a June 3 Central Information Commission (CIC) order stated that six national political parties would be brought under the RTI Act as they were public authorities, receiving significant funding from the government.

The government will have no difficulty in getting the bill passed as most parties are against the CIC order, the sources said.

The union cabinet approved the amendments Aug 2.

Defending the amendments, Law Minister Kapil Sibal had then said no political party could function if the CIC order was implemented.

“This (order) will strike at the root of the political system. People will seek all sorts of details from political parties including their process of consultation and decision-making. Nowhere in the world does this happen,” he said.

 “The political parties are unanimous against the CIC order. Parties will not be able to function if this is allowed,” he added.

The law minister gave a long list of points to indicate that political parties “did not function under a veil of secrecy” and were accountable.

“We get elected by the people. We have to reveal whatever donations we receive to the Election Commission. It is not as if donations to parties are unaccounted for,” said Sibal.

Donations received by political parties beyond Rs.20,000 have to be declared to the income tax department, the minister pointed out.

“This can also be made public. It is not as if the political parties operate under a veil of secrecy,” he said.
“We give an account of assets and liabilities to the Election Commission and also give an account of our expenses, there is transparency. Political parties are not companies or trusts. It’s a voluntary association of persons,” he said.
(Source: IANS )

Activists oppose amendments to RTI Act

rtiaCivil society activists are gearing up for an offensive against the government’s proposed legislation to exclude political parties from the ambit of the RTI Act. Besides petitions to parliamentarians, the PM and the President urging them not to support the amendments, activists plan to hold protest demonstrations and even challenge the legislation in court as a last resort.

The Union Cabinet on Thursday cleared two amendments to the transparency Act to counter the Central Information Commission (CIC) June 3 order that the six national political parties ” Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPM ” were public authorities. The bill is likely to be brought in the monsoon session of Parliament starting on Monday.

Despite a series of petitions to MPs and PM Manmohan Singh signed by eminent citizens including Aruna Roy, Shailesh Gandhi, Shekhar Singh and others, the government is fairly confident of smooth passage of the RTI bill.

Activists plan to challenge the proposed legislation on the grounds that it is against the constitutional right to freedom of speech. There has been a precedent earlier when the Supreme Court struck down an amendment to the Representation of People’s Act in 2002 and directed candidates to submit their financial details and criminal antecedents before the Election Commission of India. SC said the amendment was in violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) co-founder Prof Jagdeep Chhokar said, “We hope RTI Act is not passed and wise counsel prevails on the lawmakers. In the unfortunate event that it is passed by Parliament, it will be challenged in court of law. The exact nature of which will depend on the specific wording of the amendments.”

Activists said there was a clear case of conflict of interest with MPs seeking to exclude themselves from the transparency Act.

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) plans a protest demonstration on August 6 at Jantar Mantar to voice their concern against the government’s decision.

RTI activist S C Agrawal said if political parties were trying to escape scrutiny of the RTI Act, they should also return land and accommodation allotted by the central and state governments at subsidized costs and tax concessions to political parties must be abolished.

(Source: IANS)