The office of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha is covered by the RTI Act and it should provide information as per the provisions of the Act, the Central Information Commission ruled on Thursday.
Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said the “office of the Leader of the Opposition is a public authority,” as it was created by a government notification, but reserved his decision whether it was part of the Lok Sabha Secretariat or an independent office.
Mr. Habibullah was hearing the plea of Subhash Chandra Agrawal, who sought detailed information from Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani on the letter he wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue of black money allegedly stashed in Swiss banks, and the Finance Minister’s reply to it.
Initially Mr. Advani’s office did not reply to his queries, but after the complaint notice was sent by the CIC, his secretary Deepak Chopra provided a reply. In it, Mr. Chopra had said the office of the Leader of the Opposition was serviced by the Lok Sabha, and the letter was sent to it. But the Lok Sabha Secretariat informed him that it did not have jurisdiction over the office.
When the matter reached the CIC, Mr. Chopra, in a written submission, said: “If the Commission holds this institution as ‘public authority,’ the Lok Sabha Secretariat ought to implement the provisions of the Act ...” “It is therefore stated that the Lok Sabha Secretariat completely services the Leader of the Opposition for all practical purposes and must take responsibility for implementing the Act.”
The Lok Sabha Secretariat said that if the Commission concluded that the office was a public authority under the Act, it could not be held part of the Secretariat because it had no access to information held by it. The confidential information was held by the person holding the post. “The office is under the administration and control of the Leader of the Opposition, and the Lok Sabha Secretariat has no role to play in its administration, except providing statutory allowances and benefits.” it said.
The Secretariat also said it was not a necessary party in the issue being adjudicated by the Commission. “The confidentiality and credibility of the information would also be an issue, and the Lok Sabha Secretariat would be reduced to a liaisoning office,” the advocate representing the Secretariat said.
The Commission said it needed to examine whether it was part of the Lok Sabha Secretariat or an independent one.