On the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the Right to Information Act, 2005, RTI activists from 16 States came together on Thursday at a public hearing on the Act and appealed to the Union government and Parliament to review the Supreme Court judgment on appointment of Information Commissioners. They called for the review as the judgment “fails” to deal with several important aspects of implementation of the Act. The RTI Act was passed on June 15, 2005, and came fully into force on October 12 that year.

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), which organised the public hearing in collaboration with other civil society groups including Satark Nagrik Sangathan, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Transparency International, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Accountability Initiative, JOSH, Pardarshita, NFIW, CFAR, Rajasthan RTI Manch, Sanskriti Foundation and Inclusive Media for Change, passed several resolutions appealing for a review of the court verdict.

Act will be rendered ineffective

The appeal comes just a day before the annual convention of State and Central Information Commissioners, which is expected to be addressed by the Prime Minister. Apart from discussing the how the State Information Commissions and the Central Information Commission (CIC) function, the public hearing talked about the apex court’s verdict and its current and potential impact.

In a recent judgment, the apex court said all Commissions must henceforth work in benches of two members each, one of whom would be a “judicial member.”

One of the most significant impacts of the judgment, the activists said, would be that it would increase the pendency of cases, which anyway runs into tens of thousands.

As a result, the efficacy of the RTI Act would be undermined, said the former Central Information Commissioner, Shailesh Gandhi. “Today, if five Information Commissioners are able to dispose of 15,000 cases every year, the present judgment of the Supreme Court will reduce the disposal rate to less than 25 per cent of current capacity.”

“The judgment fails to lay down norms on time-bound disposal of cases at the Commission. This will make the RTI ineffective and impede peoples’ fundamental right to information,” said one of the resolutions passed at the end of the day-long public hearing, which will also be forwarded to the CIC and the Centre.

“Therefore, we urge a review of the SC judgment at different levels — at the level of the government and Parliament, at the level of the court itself through a review petition and through widespread discussions across the country, keeping in mind the potential and actual impact of this judgment on the functioning of Information Commissions in India,” the resolution said.

Judgment silent on improvement of process

The public hearing also supported the Supreme Court’s concern at transparency and fairness in the process of appointment of Information Commissioners. However, it added that “apart from a few remarks on transparency and fairness in appointment procedures, the judgment is silent on the actual process of how this will be improved.”

The activists also said the apex court should “immediately clarify whether the existing Commissions can continue to function and dispose appeals and complaints as per the RTI Act.”

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