Supreme Court ruling offers reprieve to Sibi Mathews

The Supreme Court’s partial stay on its September 2012 decision on the structure of information commissions will ensure the smooth functioning of the Kerala State Information Commission which had been upset by the earlier order. It has also offered a reprieve to State Chief Information Commissioner Sibi Mathews who can now stay on in his position until the court gives its final verdict.

On a batch of review petitions, Justices A.K. Patnaik and Arjan Kumar Sikri on Tuesday stayed certain parts of the Supreme Court’s September ruling in the Namit Sharma vs. Union of India case which had temporarily led to the stalling of functioning of all information commissions, including Kerala’s, last year.

The partial stay has lifted the conditions that the information commissions should hear petitions in Benches of two each and that one of the two commissioners should be a ‘judicial member’ while the other should be an ‘expert member.’ The court has also stayed the condition that the “Chief Information Commissioner at the Centre or State level shall only be a person who is or has been a Chief Justice of the High Court or a Judge of the Supreme Court of India.”

Earlier directive stayed

Additionally, the Bench stayed the earlier directive to give preference to “a person who is or has been a judge of the High Court for appointment as Information Commissioner” and that the Chief Justices should be consulted before the appointment of judicial members. The Supreme Court has now stayed these provisions.

The September ruling had caused a standstill in almost all the State Information Commissions as well as the Central Information Commission as most of them could not meet the conditions.

For instance, in the case of the Kerala commission, the Chief Information Commissioner, Sibi Mathews, was a retired police officer and not a former High Court Chief Justice as mandated by the ruling.

Moreover, none of the five information commissioners had a legal background, let alone being a former High Court judge. For a few days after the September ruling, the State commission had stopped hearing petitions. However, following the legal opinion given by the Advocate General, who said the ruling would only have prospective effect, the commission resumed its work.

Tuesday’s ruling allowed the State governments to fill the vacancies of information commissioners and chief information commissioners in accordance with Right to Information Act 2005 and the September ruling excepting the stayed provisions.

The Bench also said: “We further make it clear that the Chief Commissioners already functioning will continue to function until the disposal of the review petitions.”

This means that Mr. Mathews can stay on as Chief Information Commissioner for the time being.

  • Apex court stay allows State to fill vacancies

  • Sibi Mathews can continue as CIC until disposal of review pleas