Mixed response to court ruling on Information Commissions

We are awaiting Centre’s decision: Chief Information Commissioner

A day after the Supreme Court ruled that only sitting or retired Chief Justices of High Courts or a Supreme Court judge can head the Central and State Information Commissions and that hearing can only be carried out by Benches having a judicial member and an expert, Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra said he was awaiting a decision from the Centre.

There is confusion on whether the Commissions can function in their existing form in the wake of the ruling. Mr. Mishra said the Commission had in the meantime decided to carry on functioning till further instructions.

Former Chief Information Commissioners are divided in their views on the apex court’s decision. Chairperson of the Minorities Commission Wajahat Habibullah said the order would only take “prospective effect” and noted that “it is a step in the process of evolution in adjudication of the right to information.”

“The Supreme Court has in its wisdom taken a decision. There is nothing to be alarmed at as members of the judiciary have in the past too been part of the State or Central Information Commissions. In fact, the first Information Commissioner in Uttar Pradesh was a High Court judge,” he observed.

Mr. Habibullah said a key area of concern had been cumulative arrears of Central and State Commissions. “This has led to brevity of judgments and while earlier they were never less than eight or nine pages, now they are very brief; so much that critics say that the decisions are not well reasoned.”

Noting that imposition of penalties had also not been happening, Mr. Habibullah hoped that with judicial experts coming in, things would look up.

As for a two-member Bench becoming a norm, Mr. Habibullah said that earlier there were full Benches. Then the Commissions moved to three, two and one-member Bench due to the “pressures of arrears.”

The Minorities Commission chairperson said the Supreme Court had now in a constructive move allowed that a full Bench hearing could override the decision of a single Bench. Earlier, such a decision would have gone to the High Court as in 2010, when the High Court ruled that the CIC did not have the constitutional mandate to override the ruling of a Bench.

“But now the High Court order has been invalidated and this means that more power has been vested with the CIC,” he noted.

The former CIC, Shailesh Gandhi, has, however, questioned the reasoning behind having 50 per cent of all Commissioners from the judiciary.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that the RTI Act is not unconstitutional, but has then said that since the work of the Commission is quasi-judicial, at least 50 per cent of all Commissioners must be judges,” he said.

Noting that the Supreme Court had further directed that First Appellate Authorities be legally equipped, Mr. Gandhi said: “There are many quasi-judicial functions performed in our country. The Election Commission is certainly performing a quasi-judicial function. Yet, for years it was not felt that it could not function without retired judges, and has delivered its duty in a time-bound manner.”

“Every Collector performs quasi-judicial functions, but they need not be legally qualified. However for understanding and implementing the Right to Information [Act], people with judicial experience are required,” he said.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 9:09:09 PM |

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