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.

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.

Rationale behind passing judgement can’t be revealed under RTI: SC

supreme courtThe rationale behind passing judgements or orders by courts cannot be disclosed to litigants under the Right to Information Act, Supreme Court has said.

An appellate authority of the Supreme Court, constituted under the RTI Act, dismissed the plea of an RTI activist who had sought information on the rationale for passing orders on review petitions without holding a hearing and without giving any reasons.

“It will be of essence to state that the CPIO is not the authority or the person from whom information can be sought on the rationale behind the delivery of judgements by the court as has been attempted to be done by the appellant in this case,” the authority said in its order.

It dismissed an appeal filed by Ravinder Raj, an advocate, who approached the appellate authority after the information officer of the apex court refused to furnish information on the issue.

“The Supreme Court in the case of Khanapuram (judgement) has held that the judge speaks through its judgements or orders passed by him and no litigants can be allowed to seek information as to why and for what reasons the judge came to a particular decision or conclusion,” it said.

“Taking a cue from the law laid down above, it is evident that the information sought on these counts has no basis in it,” it added.

(Source: PTI)

Law has become business now, says Sibal

Law as a profession has become a business over the years, which is a matter of concern, union Law and Justice Minister Kapil Sibal said Sunday.
“Lawyers have always been regarded as providers of service. That is why law is a profession. Over the years, however, I found that it has become a business,” Sibal said at the 21st annual convocation of the National Law School of India University.

Quoting Scottish lawyer Hugh Patterson McMillon that “practice of law was more than a mere trade or business”, Sibal cautioned the graduating law students from falling into the trap of wanting to make a monetary killing while providing service, as the relationship between a customer and a businessperson was not of personal trust.

“The relationship between the client and a lawyer is a relationship of trust. Never breach the trust. Always keep the trust at the forefront of the service you provide. Keep the compensation part as an element which is of least priority,” he said in his presidential address.

Asserting that each law had an emotive societal foundation, Sibal advised the budding lawyers to grapple with the real world and look at the soul of the law to serve the cause of justice.

“A law without a soul is like a human being without a heart, lifeless and static. Bring life to the law through interpretation. It is for this reason that many a judge look at the purposive intent of the law when interpreting its cold print,” he noted.

Sibal, a practising lawyer, also had a world of caution to the judiciary on interpreting the law.

“Judges are required to look at the circumstances and reasons for which the law was passed. When interpreting, judges must be cautious not to over-stretch its intent or bring their own predilections to bear upon its interpretation,” he said.

Observing that enacted laws should be a clear set of unambiguous enunciations, not given to multiple interpretations, Sibal said such laws could be misused to destroy the cause of justice.

“Parliament is the cauldron of that transformation which must reflect the concerns of society not yet reflected in extant laws,” he said, citing the societal benefits of the Right to Information Act and the Right to Education Act, ensuring children free and compulsory education.

Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam conferred the degrees to 121 students, including 74 graduates (B.A.LLb), 42 post-graduates (LL.M), four doctorates (Ph.Ds) and one M.Phil. In addition 436 distance education students were given post-graduate diplomas.

Among graduates, Namrata Shah bagged 16 gold medals and Rishi Shroff six gold medals.

Karnataka Governor H.R. Bharadwaj, state Higher Education Minister R.V. Deshpande and varsity Vice-Chancellor Venkata Rao were also present at the occasion

(Source: IANS)

Court to hear RTI plea on attorney general

The Delhi High Court Thursday agreed to hear two separate petitions asking it to declare the attorney general’s office a public authority so that it comes under the purview of the Right To Information Act, 2005.

Justice S.K. Misra listed for Oct 30 the petitions seeking to declare the attorney general’s office as a public authority under the RTI Act on the ground that the top law officer’s appointment was governed by the constitution.

In one petition filed by RTI activist R.K. Jain, the court asked the central government to file its response.

Earlier, it issued notice to the law and justice ministry on a similar petition filed by another Delhi-based RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal.

The court has now clubbed both the pleas.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had filed the plea for Agarwal, said that as far as the attorney general at the centre and advocate generals at the state level were concerned, they were public authorities and came under the RTI Act.

Agarwal moved court in appeal against a decision of the Central Information Commission holding that the office of attorney general was not covered by the RTI Act.

(Source: IANS)

Sibal explains why RTI amendment is needed

kapilThe government on Friday strongly defended the cabinet decision to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act in order to keep political parties out of its ambit, saying no political party could function if the CIC order was implemented.

The issue has been in the news 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.

Had the CIC order been implemented, the political parties would be liable to declare their accounts and other details.

Law Minister Kapil Sibal said the government respected the CIC, but was concerned by its order. He further said: “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.”

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

The government’s reaction came after the union cabinet Thursday approved two amendments to the RTI Act, one aiming at keeping political parties out of its ambit and the second stating that the CIC order was not binding on any political party.

According to the law minister, two options were available to the government — filing a writ petition in the high court against the CIC order, a time-consuming process; and second, amending the RTI Act, which could be done quickly.

Government sources said the change in the RTI Act would be made in the monsoon session starting Aug 5.

“The hurry is because the CIC order is operational. We want a quick resolution of this issue,” said Sibal.

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.

“There seems to be an impression that political parties are not 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.

Sibal said parties already make declarations to the Election Commission. “We make declarations to the income tax department, and the IT department can make it public if it so thinks,” he said.

The minister went on to say that political parties are not appointed.

“We go to the people through an election process. We get elected, unlike government servants and people in a trust. There is a basic difference,” he said.

In a lighter vein, the law minister said it was the UPA government which had given the weapon of RTI Act in the hands of people.

Stressing that the government wanted greater transparency in the political system, the law minister said he has asked the law commission to start a poll reform process and consultations have already begun with parties.The EC, too, was holding similar consultations, he said.

(Source: IANS)

PM urged not to amend RTI Act

rtiActivists and citizens Wednesday urged the prime minister not to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The petition to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, signed by around 300 people, came after a Central Information Commission order that declared six political parties to be public authorities.

“It is reported that the government is considering the introduction of a bill in parliament to amend the RTI law. Such a move to amend the act will reinforce and confirm the suspicions of many that the political establishment intends to cover acts of corruption and arbitrary use of power. We, as citizens of India, empowered by the RTI Act, demand that it not be amended,” the petition said.

The signatories include former NAC members Aruna Roy, Harsh Mander and Jean Dreze, former information commissioner Sahilesh Gandhi and many retired personnel from the armed forces.

The monsoon session of parliament starts Aug 5.

Stating that any amendment to the RTI Act would undermine and weaken the process of realising various constitutional promises, the petition said that in 2009, when amendments were being proposed to the RTI Act, the concerned minister of the government had assured parliament that “non-governmental organisations and social activists would be consulted on the proposed amendments”.

The petition added: “India’s governance is going through a credibility crisis as never before, in which all sectors of governance and social formations have been suspect. The political establishment has come in for most severe criticism, just and unjust.”

“The series of attempts to amend the Act, which have arisen periodically, have since 2006 been nullified to a large extent by public pressure as well as the political will of a part of the establishment and government,” said the activists.

(Source: IANS)

CIC order on parties: RTI applicants file caveat in HC

A caveat was on Wednesday filed in the Delhi High Court to pre-empt any ex-parte stay on the Central Information Commission order bringing political parties under the purview of Right to Information Act.

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a civil society claiming to bring transparency in Indian politics, on whose plea the CIC had passed the order, asked the High Court that it should be given the opportunity to respond if any appeal is filed by any political party.

ADR said that they apprehend that the political parties like Congress, BJP, Samajwadi Party, BSP and CPI, CPI(M) and NCP would challenge the CIC’s June 3 order.

“The caveator/ prospective respondents (ADR) apprehend that the revision/appellant may claim inter-alia ex parte interim relief from this court against CIC’s June 3 order.

“No ex parte/ad-interim relief or otherwise be granted to the prospective revisioner/appellant without a prior notice thereof of the caveators/prospective respondents is duly served,” the caveat filed through advocate Kamini Jaiswal said.

“The caveators have a strong case on merits and if an opportunity is granted to them, the caveators will convince this court not to grant ex-parte relief in the present case and to further dismiss any such revision petition/ first appeal against the order/interim application of the prospective revisioner/appellant on the merits,” as per the caveat.

On June 3, the CIC has brought six political parties – Congress, BJP, CPI-M, CPI, BSP and NCP – under the ambit of the RTI Act, saying the parties are substantially financed by the central government among other things.


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.”



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.