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‘Abuse’ of RTI has led to ‘paralysis and fear’ among officials, says CJI Bobde

Photo: rti.gov.in

Photo: rti.gov.in  

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Need for laying down guidelines to check locus of applicants, filter RTI requests, he says

Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde on Monday said the unbridled use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act had created a sense of “paralysis and fear” in the government.

“There is paralysis and fear about this Act (RTI). People are not taking decisions,” Chief Justice Bobde observed orally.

The CJI said government functionaries were too scared to even take any decisions.

Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, for activist Anjali Bhardwaj, said “only those who are corrupt have reason to fear”.

The court was hearing an application filed by Ms. Bhardwaj and retired Commodore Lokesh Bhatra about the lack of transparency in the appointment process of information commissioners despite a judgment from the Supreme Court on February 15.

“We want to find a way to stop the abuse of RTI Act. Don’t say as if there is no abuse,” Justice Bobde told Mr. Bhushan

The CJI said time had come to lay down guidelines on the use of the RTI. Guidelines should be put in place to check the locus of the RTI applicant and put a “filter” on the kind of requests made under the 2005 Act.

Justice Bobde said the court was not against the exercise of the right to information. “But it cannot be an unrivalled right. There is the serious problem of people filing RTI requests with malafide intentions, people set up by rivals,” he said. The RTI Act had become a source of criminal intimidation by people with an axe to grind. “Criminal intimidation is a nice word for ‘blackmail’,” Justice Bobde said.

People who call themselves “RTI activists” and were in no way concerned with the issues on which they file RTI requests hade impeded government functioning, the CJI observed.

“When I was in Mumbai, a government official said the Mantralaya is almost paralysed because of the kind of RTI requests made... Have you seen the kind of people seeking information. Anybody can ask. People describe themselves as RTI activists. Is that an occupation?” Justice Bobde asked.

Justice B.R. Gavai, on the Bench, remarked that “people write ‘RTI Consultant’ on their letterheads”.

Justice Bobde said the court was willing to hear arguments on the locus of people who filed RTIs and also about setting up a “filter which can be rightfully employed”.

Meanwhile, Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand submitted that an advertisement was published for the post of information commissioners on December 14. The search committee has just been constituted. “The needful would be done,” Ms. Anand submitted.

The court directed the government to publish on its website the names of the members of the search committee set up in the process of appointment of the Central Information Commission’s information commissioners.

Mr. Bhushan retorted that an advertisement was given over 11 months ago. A second advertisement was merely an excuse to delay appointments. “They will now have reason to wait for another 11 months,” Mr. Bhushan submitted.

The court gave Mr. Bhushan liberty to file a contempt petition against the government, if required, for alleged non-compliance of its February 15 judgment.

“We will issue notice if we find our judgment is not complied with,” the CJI said.

The court listed the case for hearing in February 2020.

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Printable version | Jan 30, 2020 12:02:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/abuse-of-rti-has-led-to-paralysis-and-fear-among-officials-says-cji-bobde/article30320357.ece

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