Are we witnessing the death of a fundamental right under RTI?

According to former CIC Shailesh Gandhi citizens need to question the Supreme Court judgement and ask for a review by a larger bench, if they want RTI to remain relevant

The Supreme Court has given a judgement in Namit Sharma vs. Union of India on 13 September, 2012 in WP(C) 210 of 2012. The Court has given directions that all Information Commissions shall work in Benches of two members, and one member should be a ‘judicial member’. Thus 50% of the Commissioners will now be retired judges. "Effectively the disposal of pending cases will drop to about 50% of the current disposals. This will lead to Commissions deciding cases after five years or more in the next few years," says Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.

 

He said, "Citizens should question this judgement and ask for a review by a larger bench, if they want RTI to remain relevant. I believe there are adequate legal grounds to challenge this judgement."

 

On Thursday, the apex court, while lifting the stay on appointment of information commissioners under the RTI Act, said the government should give preference to people from judicial background while appointing such Commissioners.

 

RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal said the verdict by the Supreme Court on appointment of Information Commissioners is a classic example of judicial overreach. "If not reviewed, it would induce practical problems thus making the Act, which was drafted by civil society members with an aim for simplicity and practicability while maintaining transparency and accountability, a toothless law."

 

The bench of justices AK Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar 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 to the commissions.

 

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

 

“..without any peradventure and veritably, we state that appointments of legally qualified, judicially trained and experienced persons would certainly manifest in more effective serving of the ends of justice as well as ensuring better administration of  justice by the Commission. It would render the adjudicatory process which involves critical legal questions and nuances of law, more adherent to justice and shall enhance the public confidence in the working of the Commission,” the apex court said in its judgement.

 

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.

 

"At present Central Information Commission has eight Information Commissioners out of total sanctioned strength of eleven, with none of them having judicial background. To constitute double-bench with compulsion to have a member with judicial background, there is a need to appoint eight more members, which I don't think is possible with the current setup at the Commission," Mr Agrawal pointed out.

 

Here is a copy of the Supreme Court judgement...

 

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COMMENTS

Rajinder

7 years ago

What expertise is carried by judicial members. Why they should be appointed. They only have experience of delaying delivery of justice.
Consumer protection Act requires that a case should be decided in 60 or 90 days (I do not remember exactly. There is no discretion given to extend the dead line. But 99% cases are decided after 1 year.
Recently I filed 2 cases against insurance cos. Since in these cases there was no dispute with the insurance cos on facts, I requested that case may be disposed off without any replication, evidence by way of evidence or written arguments (I included my written arguments in the complaint itself).
I also wrote in the complaint (first 3-4 paras) that in case my suggestions regarding replication etc are not acceptable then an appealable order may please be passed.
The result - no one read first 3-4 paras of the complaint.
When I referred to them I was told that my complaint will be dismissed.
I requested for dismissal of my complaint. At this point date was given for evidence by the OP. I reminded the judicial member that there is no dispute on the facts of the case and if there is dispute on facts I will drop my dispute.
I was told that I am misbehaving. I requested for an explanation about the part which is misbehaviour. I did not raise my voice at all. Is raising legal issues is misbehaiour.
After this point the next date was fixed for arguments.
That is the expertise carried by judicial members. And this is not a stray case. For last 8 years I have been facing this threat of dismissal of my case by different judicial members when I try to remind them that there is no dispute on facts of the case. They refer to some non existent court rules and given a lost expression.
The judges are not willing to learn.

Dipak Chatterjee

7 years ago

REGARDING SUPREME COURT DECISION ON RTI, CIC(CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSIONER) IS RIDICULOUS, OVERREACHING AND ENCROACHING THE JUDICIAL POWER, IT WILL DESTROY THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF COMMON CITIZEN, IT MUST BE APPEAL TO THE REVIEW BENCH OF SUPREME COURT.
DR. DIPAK CHATTERJEE

MOHAN

7 years ago

Supreme Court is right. Individuals with judicial back ground must be the Information commissioners.In Kerala none of the members have judicial back ground and many of their decisions are ludicrous.

REPLY

Rajinder

In Reply to MOHAN 7 years ago

What expertise is carried by judicial members. Why they should be appointed. They only have experience of delaying delivery of justice.
Consumer protection Act requires that a case should be decided in 60 or 90 days (I do not remember exactly. There is no discretion given to extend the dead line. But 99% cases are decided after 1 year.
Recently I filed 2 cases against insurance cos. Since in these cases there was no dispute with the insurance cos on facts, I requested that case may be disposed off without any replication, evidence by way of evidence or written arguments (I included my written arguments in the complaint itself).
I also wrote in the complaint (first 3-4 paras) that in case my suggestions regarding replication etc are not acceptable then an appealable order may please be passed.
The result - no one read first 3-4 paras of the complaint.
When I referred to them I was told that my complaint will be dismissed.
I requested for dismissal of my complaint. At this point date was given for evidence by the OP. I reminded the judicial member that there is no dispute on the facts of the case and if there is dispute on facts I will drop my dispute.
I was told that I am misbehaving. I requested for an explanation about the part which is misbehaviour. I did not raise my voice at all. Is raising legal issues is misbehaiour.
After this point the next date was fixed for arguments.
That is the expertise carried by judicial members. And this is not a stray case. For last 8 years I have been facing this threat of dismissal of my case by different judicial members when I try to remind them that there is no dispute on facts of the case. They refer to some non existent court rules and given a lost expression.
The judges are not willing to learn.

IMG decisions on coal: What should be considered for the future?

The successful allottee of the coal block should be made to pay the cost of coal mined to the Government of India in lieu or in addition to the loyalty, as coal is a natural resource belonging to the people and not the allottee on a “free of cost” basis
 
The verdict is out, at least for the first four out-of-turn coal block allottees. They have lost it forever! Unless, of course, someone in this lot tries to use legal course of action for reinstatement!
 
There are many others in the line of fire; some are ducking behind the cumbersome formalities and clearances that are considered as “stumbling blocks”, but which are now their saviours, as the axe has not fallen. Perhaps, they a little respite, a time to breathe!
 
Chances are that the IMG (Inter-Ministerial Group) may seek another 15 days extension to complete its hearings before it can pronounce a final judgment. After all, many of the allottees got the blocks years ago and two weeks is too short a period of time to make any judgment for the whole lot out there.
 
Outsiders do not know the nature of the investigations that the IMG must have made, and yet it did a thorough job before coming to any conclusion for the first four who have lost their blocks.
 
Anyway, this raises several questions. Looking at things positively, what should the IMG do when it comes to those allottees, who, by virtue of their actual compliance of various stipulations, can be deemed to have shown or performed their part of the obligations, but are actually at the mercy of State and MOEF ministry of environment and forest) officials who are actually the stumbling blocks?
 
Such a question leads us to ask if and whether both related State and MOEF officials were also subject to similar grilling that the individual allottees went through? Were they present on a face-to-face basis to answer charges and counter claims? In the absence of one or the other, the final outcome may not be as fair as one would expect.
 
In any case, those of the de-allocated apparently did not have any credible defence but to lose their opportunity of a life time. As for the successful ones, that would soon emerge, what are the expected IMG recommendations, considering the mined coal from these blocks as “national wealth”?
 
It would be fair to think that they would have to comply with the following requirements, in general:
 
a) a time-frame within which mining operations should start  
b) proof of financial and technical ability to do so
c) that the coal block allotment is not a free gift to the allottee as originally envisaged
d) that an expert committee, drawn from the industry (coal miners in actual profitable operations), technical experts to assess the thermal calorific value of coal mined at specific sites in question
e) audited figures of the unit cost of coal of the same quality for the previous 2-3 years (or more) and the matching internal price from reliable and ascertainable sources to be obtained, which will determine the cost of coal at pithead
f) an audited cost of coal production for each such mine
g) based on the above data and any other similar information that the government or IMG may decide, the successful allottee of the block will have to PAY the cost of coal mined to the Government of India in lieu or in addition to the loyalty, as may be determined by them.

In other words, coal obtained from these mines would not be FREE, as the same is a natural resource belonging to the people and not the allottee on a “free of cost” basis.
 
Such a move would have far-reaching ramifications on the national wealth and its usage, and prevent unscrupulous methods of acquisition at the cost of the exchequer.

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)

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Anti-KNPP protesters take to sea route

With black flags fluttering in the backdrop, the protesters said they were prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect their livelihood and ecology through the 'jal satyagraha'

 
Kudankulam (Tamil Nadu): Taking their protest against the Kudankulam power plant to the sea route, hundreds of people on Thursday stood in the waters forming a human chain to demand halting of preparations for fuel loading into the reactor, reports PTI.
 
The Coast Guard aircraft hovered over the sea and its ships kept a vigil off nearby Idinthakarai as the villagers, including women and children, from Kudankulam and nearby fishing hamlets walked into the sea for the show of strength.
 
With black flags fluttering in the backdrop, the protesters said they were prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect their livelihood and ecology through the 'jal satyagraha', taking a leaf from a similar protest in central Indian state Madhya Pradesh.
 
"What we are observing is Jal Sathyagraha - peaceful demonstration in the sea," said anti-nuclear activists who have taken the example of villagers of Khandwa district in Madhya Pradesh demanding land as compensation and reduction of Omkareshwar Dam recently.
 
Though the protest was intended to be from 10am to 4pm, the activists said they would continue it indefinitely on a relay basis.
 
Officials said Coast Guard aircraft and ships had been deployed to monitor the entire coastal area even as more than 4,000 police personnel, supported by Rapid Action Force, continued to maintain a strict vigil, having almost sealed the entire Kudankulam town to bar entry of outsiders.
 
Police said they were monitoring the human chain protest from a distance and would not act unless 'provoked extremely'.
 
The protest in the sea was held even as the Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy leader S P Udhayakumar, who has been spearheading the over a year-long stir, remained elusive with police searching for him.
 
Udayakumar had announced he would surrender before police on Tuesday night but later did a somersault citing people's sentiments against it. 
 
"They (the people) are prepared to take any risk and even sacrifice their lives to protect their livelihood and ecology and the sea which provided them everything from any nuclear disaster," Amirtharaj Stephen of People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy said, adding their protest would remain peaceful.
 
Meanwhile, police on Thursday served summons at the residence of Udayakumar in Kanyakumari district asking him to appear in a court in Valliyur near here in connection with the protest-related cases pending against him.
 
The protest against the KNPP turned violent on Monday that led to police firing resulting in the death of a fisherman in Tuticorin district and baton charge on the agitators here and house-to-house searches for PMANE activists.
 
Their demands included release of those arrested for agitating against nuclear power, compensation for those injured and whose articles went missing during police action, stopping fuel loading in the plant and no action against 'peaceful' protesters.
 
Fishermen of neighbouring Kanyakumari and Tuticorin districts held a protest condemning the police action on Monday and the killing of one person.
 

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