RTI activists say Supreme Court ruling may increase pendency of cases

Social activists using the Right to Information Act as a tool for enforcing public rights have expressed apprehension that the Supreme Court order on the composition of Central and State Information Commissions might lead to delays in dealing with cases if the number of posts of Commissioners were not increased.

RTI activist Anjali Bharadwaj of Satark Nagrik Sangathan said social activists have three main concerns. “One of the primary problems is pendency. People have to wait for a very long time before their complaints or appeals are heard. Now the order says that work of the Commission will now be done in benches of two each, one of who will be a judicial member. Till now one member bench, so it is now like halving the number of benches.”

“So, unless the number of commissioners is increased, the cases heard and disposed of would be drastically reduced. This might make the pendency in Commissions like that in the judiciary today; that would be disastrous for the RTI Act,” she said.

Ms. Bharadwaj also called for diversity in Commissions through appointment of people from other walks of life too. “Right now, there is a preponderance of retired civil servants. With this apex court order, there would be only judicial officers or civil servants that would lead to the problem of lack of diversity in the Commission. There should be diversity in the Commission,” she said.

She also noted that the Centre would have to clarify as to how the Commissions would function now as there were not enough vacancies to have as many members from the judiciary as others for maintaining the composition of the benches as per the Supreme Court order.

Social activist Commodore (Retd.) Lokesh Batra said, “it is not clear how a Supreme Court Judge who retires at the age of 65 can be appointed to the post of Chief Information Commissioner or an Information Commissioner when the retirement age for these posts is also 65?”

Also with each case to be heard by a two-member bench of Commissioners, he expressed fears that this would delay the process of disposal of cases. “Hope we are not heading for ‘hearing after hearing’ and reserved verdicts like in the courts,” he said.

Colonel Devinder Sehrawat, co-convener Kissan Mahasangh, which has been fighting cases of farmers against land acquisition and using RTI effectively to bring out relevant information, said: “The judges opined that interest of justice demanded having judicial members to head such bodies, as currently a void existed as none of the eight CIC members have a judicial background. The judges felt the need to strike a balance between freedom under Article 19(1)(a) — right to know, and Article 21 relating to right to privacy.”

Stating that “the RTI Act has been a saving grace for the citizens in the current state of non responsive government machinery,” Mr. Sehrawat said: “Currently over a six-month backlog exits in the CIC, and agencies and government funded projects have been taking refuge under legal cases in their bid to deny information.”

He lamented that these aspects have not been looked into. “The emphasis should have been to make the system more responsive to the right of the citizens to know what is kept in cloak of secrecy in official files.”

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 3:35:48 AM |

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