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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