Court stays transparency panel’s order on school data

The Delhi High Court has stayed a Central Information Commission (CIC) order directing the Delhi government to make public the admission criteria for poor children followed by private schools in the last three years.

The court also stayed the CIC order to put on the government website details about the annual income tax returns placed on record by the schools.

Justice S. Muralidhar stayed till April 7 the directions passed by the CIC on an application for information under the right to information (RTI) act.

The court order came Jan 6 on an appeal filed by a group of private schools – The Delhi State Public School Management Association – challenging the CIC’s order passed Dec 12 last year.

The association of schools submitted that the schools’ annual returns were confidential documents and should not be made public.

In December last year, the CIC directed the Delhi government to ensure that all schools put up a display board carrying information about available seats for students from the economically weaker section (EWS).

Acting on an application filed by a woman under RTI law, the commission directed the directorate of education that the display boards in schools should be in English and Hindi.

It said the display boards should show total number of seats in all classes in a school, total vacancies in all classes, total number of seats under the EWS quota, seats available under the quota, total applications received under the quota, information about till when the EWS quota applications will be received and the date by which the admissions will be given.

The directorate was also asked by the commission to put on its website annual returns filed till date by private schools along with a list of schools which had defaulted in filing the returns.

Judges appointed without transparency: Delhi high court ex-chief justice

Appointment of judges in India is bereft of transparency and judicial benches need to be more diverse, former Delhi high court chief justice Ajit Prakash Shah said Saturday.

‘Our current appointments system is out of step with democratic culture, primarily because it lacks transparency, and provides for no oversight,’ Shah said.

Known for his outspoken judgments, including the landmark July 2009 verdict de-criminalising homosexuality, Shah was speaking at a seminar ‘Strengthening Democracy: Role of Judiciary’ organised here.

‘At present, choosing judges is based on undisclosed criterion in largely unknown circumstances, reflecting an increasing democratic deficit. We can learn from systems elsewhere,’ Shah said.

‘International consensus seems to favour appointments to the higher judiciary through an independent commission. There should also be a consensus to bring more diversity on the bench,’ he said, adding that less than five percent of judges were female.

NGO ordered to pay Rs.75,000 for transparency law abuse

The Delhi High Court Wednesday imposed a cost of Rs.75,000 on an NGO which had sought an inquiry into the role of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) engineers in the alleged mismanagement of Commonwealth Games (CWG) projects.

The court dismissed the petition after the MCD submitted that the petitioner NGO, Pardarshita Public Welfare Foundation, had questioned the parentage of the engineers through a Right to Information (RTI) application.

Dismissing the petition, Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Manmohan said the present petition amounted to abuse of law.

‘Seeking information about the parentage of a person and his medical history is unwarranted and uncalled for. (Such) information is bound to create a storm in anybody’s mind,’ said the bench.

The bench said that the RTI law was not enacted for abusing people and seeking personal details.

While dismissing the petition, the court directed the petitioner NGO to deposit the cost of Rs.75,000 within a period of four weeks.

In its petition, the NGO alleged engineers of the MCD indulged in corrupt practices in connection with the several projects of the Commonwealth Games.

It alleged that several MCD engineers misused public money for personal gains.

‘According to the NGO, several letters were written to the officials of the MCD but no action was taken. Allegations have been made against the officials but without any grounds,’ said the bench.

The court also took strong cognizance of the RTI application filed by Har Kishan Das Nijhawan, general secretary of the NGO, asking an MCD engineer about his parentage.

He also asked whether the civic agency’s engineers were suffering from any sexual disorders, whether they had carried out a DNA test for their mother, whether their mother was a surrogate mother or step mother, and also sought the name of their biological father and step mother.

‘It’s an abuse of provisions under the RTI Act. We cannot give any type of clean chit to the MCD engineer, but the information which has been asked by the petitioner exposes vindictive attitude,’ said the bench.

The petitioner defended his move and said that the engineers were blackmailing him and also used unparliamentary language against him, so he asked certain questions through his RTI application.

The court rejected the contention saying that the petitioner could have filed a complaint against such people instead of abusing the process of law.

Apex court restores powers of transparency panel chief

The Supreme Court Monday stayed the operation of a Delhi High Court order striking down the provision under which the chief information commissioner constitutes different benches of the transparency law panel to hear appeals.

The high court by its May 21 order quashed the Central Information Commission (Management) Regulations, 2007. The high court also held that the chief information commissioner had no powers to constitute other benches.

An apex court bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B.S. Chauhan stayed the operation of the high court order after Attorney General G. Vahanvati told the court that it (high court order) had impacted the functioning of the Central Information Commission (CIC).

The attorney general also said that the chief information commissioner was unable to constitute benches to hear the cases.

The section 12(4) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act says that the general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the Central Information Commission shall vest in the chief information commissioner, who shall be assisted by the information commissioners.

The provision says that the chief information commissioner may exercise all such powers and do all such acts and things which may be exercised or done by the CIC autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority under this act.

In the instant case, the CIC in an application filed by Sarbjeet Roy directed the constitution of a committee to inquire into the compliance of Section 4 of the RTI Act by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). The CIC direction was issued Sep 22, 2009.

The Section 4 of the RTI Act mandates all public authorities to maintain records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this act.

The DDA challenged CIC’s order of Sep 22, 2009 and the high court while deciding the DDA’s plea declared that the regulation framed by the CIC in pursuance of its power under Section 12(4) of the RTI Act were ultra vires (beyond the legal powers of CIC).