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No beating about the bush.
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...
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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