Hearings suspended in Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan

A quick survey of the fallout of the Supreme Court order directing that State Information Commissions “henceforth” work on benches of two members each — one of them a ‘judicial member’ and the other an ‘expert member’ — has shown that work in some SICs hearing appeals under the Right to Information (RTI) Act has ground to a halt.

Other SICs found no barrier to their functioning arising from the order.

Hearings on appeals were suspended in Maharashtra, Kerala, Assam and Rajasthan as the SIC sought clarifications, while proceedings were going on uninterrupted at the Commissions in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

The Tamil Nadu SIC said it was functioning effectively as three of the six Information Commissioners had a legal background to handle cases under the RTI Act.

Many States reported unfilled Information Commissioner vacancies, and some said it would take time to implement the changes ordered by the Supreme Court. RTI activists were divided over the likely impact of the Supreme Court ruling.

One group in West Bengal expressed apprehension that the new procedure would weaken information access for people.

West Bengal Information Commission officials said they were “confused” over the recent order of the Supreme Court but maintained that work was going on as usual. In Assam, the Information Commission temporarily suspended hearings in view of the order as the SIC has no judicial member.

The Uttar Pradesh State Information Commission was also functioning without interruption.

In Odisha, an Information Commissioner, Jagadananda, said he did not face any hurdle while adjudicating cases because of a non-legal background. “The Commission is guided by rules framed in accordance with the Act,” he said.