Saturday, March 27, 2010

Information Commission's writ plea referred to Division Bench

Information Commission's writ plea referred to Division Bench

Special Correspondent

Kochi: A writ petition challenging the decision of the Committee of Privileges and Ethics of the Kerala Assembly to summon the State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) and a former State Information Commissioner (SIC) in connection with an alleged breach of privilege of the House was referred to a Division Bench by a single judge of the Kerala High Court.

The petition was filed by Palat Mohandas, SCIC, and P.N. Vijayakumar, former SIC. The State Information Commission had directed State Public Information Officer of the Assembly V. Jayalekshmi Amma to furnish a copy of the video recording and the printed record of a speech of Kerala Congress (Jacob) leader T.M. Jacob in the Assembly in 2005 to an applicant under the Right to Information Act. It was found to be prima facie violating the privilege of the Assembly and the Speaker referred the issue to the Privileges and Ethics Committee. They were asked to appear before the committee on March 30 at 4 p.m.

Referring the petition to a Bench, Justice T.R. Ramachandran Nair said that the question involved in the petition was whether proceedings for breach of privilege could be initiated when orders were passed under the Right to Information Act. Yet another question was whether orders passed under the Rules of Business of the House could be subject to judicial review. In view of these important questions, the judge felt that it should be heard by a Division Bench.

SIC contention

The petitioners said that they were only discharging their functions under the Right to Information Act. The Act encompassed all public authorities including the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. In fact, the Assembly, through its Committee of Privileges and Ethics, had usurped a jurisdiction vested in the High Court. The decision of the committee had undermined all protections given to and obligations cast on the SCIC and SIC to discharge their duties under the Act without fear or favour, upholding the Constitution and its laws to the best of their ability and judgment.

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The RTI Act was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on 11 May 2005, by the Raj Sabha (Upper House) on 12 May 2005 and received Presidential assent on 15 June 2005. Parts of the Act came into force upon Presidential assent, but the Act came fully into force on 12 October 2005, 120 days after Presidential assent.

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