Admitting that it committed a 'mistake of law' the Supreme Court recalled its order on appointment of Information Commissioners under the RTI Act
The Supreme Court on Tuesday recalled its order on appointment of Information commissioners under the Right to Information Act. The apex court also admitted that it committed a 'mistake of law' by directing that only sitting or retired High Court Chief Justices or an apex court Judge could head the Central and State Information Commissions.
The bench had passed the order on a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging Section 12 and 15 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, enumerating the qualifications needed for the appointment of members of the commissions.
A bench of Justices AK Patnaik and AK Sikri withdrew its order of 13 September 2012 in which a slew of directions were passed pertaining to the appointment of information commissioners.
“It was mistake of law. We recall the directions,” the bench said while reading out the operative portion of its judgement on a petition filed by the Centre seeking review of its order passed year order.
The Centre had sought review of the apex court’s verdict, saying it is against the provisions of the transparency law.
The apex court, in its judgement last year, had said like other quasi-judicial bodies, people from a judicial background should also be appointed as members of the Central and State Information Commissions and this should be done after consulting the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and Chief Justices of the respective High Courts.
The Court had directed the Government to amend the RTI Act for it. “The 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 court had said.
The bench had, however, refused to quash the Sections but asked the government to modify them so that people from a judicial background are also preferred for the posts.
The CIC warned the PIO for denying information without applying mind while claiming exemption under Section 8(1)(b) of the RTI Act. This is 167th in a series of important judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi that can be used or quoted in an RTI application
The Central Information Commission (CIC), while allowing an appeal, directed Public Information Officer (PIO) of Central Drugs Laboratory (CDL) at Kolkata to provide information about proceedings of departmental promotional committee and correspondence regarding the post of senior scientific assistance (bacteriology) and senior scientific assistant (pharmacology). The PIO had denied the information citing exemption under Section 8(1) (b) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act by claiming the matter as sub-judice.
While giving this judgement on 19 January 2012, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner said, "...the PIO has not applied his mind properly and has denied information which is not exempt (under Section 8(1) (b) of the RTI Act). The PIO is warned to ensure that denial of information is not done unless there is an express provision in the law."
Kolkata resident Tarun Nag, on 30 June 2011, sought from the PIO information about proceedings of departmental promotional committee. Here is the information he sought under the RTI Act...
1. Details of Proceedings of Departmental Promotional Committee (DPC) of 'Junior Administrative Officer' Central Drugs Laboratory, Kolkata. In that DPC Mr Tarit Kumar Adhikari had been considered for the post.
2. The total corresponding letter send between office of the Director of Central Drugs Laboratory, 3, Kyd Street, Kolkata-700016, and DCGI, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt of India & Office of The Director General of Health Services, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, FDA Bhawan, ITO, Kotla Road, New Delhi-110002 related to the post of senior scientific assistance (Bacteriology) & senior scientific assistant (Pharmacology) from the 1994 to till date
The PIO transferred the application to the director, Central Drugs Laboratory (CDL), Kolkata so as to give reply with the information to Nag, the applicant and to take necessary action in the matter in accordance with the provisions of RTI Act, 2005.
Not satisfied with the PIO's reply, Nag filed his first appeal. In his order, the First Appellate Authority (FAA) said the information cannot be provided as the matter was sub-judice. He said, "Director, CDL, Kolkata has informed that the subject matter is pending consideration before Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Kolkata Bench in OA No.504 of 2011 and WPCT No.265 of 2011 before Calcutta High Court and attracts provisions of section 8 (1) (b) of RTI Act, 2005."
Citing, incomplete and unsatisfactory information provided by the PIO and unfair disposal of the appeal by the FAA, the applicant then approached the CIC with his second appeal.
During the hearing, Mr Gandhi, the then CIC noted that the PIO has refused to give the information on the ground that a case is pending before CAT, Kolkata Bench and before the Kolkata High Court. "Effectively the PIO has stated that since the matter is sub-judice he is claiming exemption under Section 8(1) (b) of the RTI Act," he said.
Section 8(1)(b) of the RTI Act exempts,
"information which has been expressly forbidden by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court."
Mr Gandhi said, "This clearly does not extend to all matters that are sub-judice. If Parliament wanted to exempt sub-judice matters it would have said so expressly. In this event the PIO has not applied his mind properly and has denied information which is not exempt. The PIO is warned to ensure that denial of information is not done unless there is an express provision in the law."
While allowing the appeal, the Bench directed the PIO to provide information sought by Nag before 10 February 2012.
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2011/003224/16954
Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2011/003224
Appellant : Tarun Nag Kolkata-700040
Respondent : Dr MFA Baig
PIO & Sr. Scientific Officer
Central Drugs Laboratory