Monday, May 31, 2010

Outcome of Delhi HC verdict against CIC

Outcome of Delhi High Court verdict against CIC

CJ: SUBHASH CHANDRA

Mon, May 31, 2010 10:02:24 IST

It may be mentioned that DoPT which is the nodal government-functionary to handle 'Right To Information Act' also usually creates hurdles by creating confusions and unwanted clarifications through its regular circulars and letters.

DIVISION-BENCH verdict dated May 21, 2010, in the matter 'Delhi Development Authority (DDA) versus Central Information Commission (CIC) and another' by Delhi High Court {WP(C)12714/2009} has created uncertainty over smooth functioning at CIC with media-reports indicating that some information commissioners have stopped taking petitions fixed for hearing before them. It may be mentioned that Department of Personnel and training (DoPT) which is the nodal government-functionary to handle 'Right To Information (RTI) Act' also usually creates hurdles by creating confusions and unwanted clarifications through its regular circulars and letters. A letter number 1/1/2009-IR dated May 22, 2009, by DoPT to CIC had also challenged constituting of benches by chief information commissioner. In view of all this it has become utmost necessary to incorporate some vital changes of academic nature to remove all confusions and uncertainty over functioning of CIC and implementation of RTI Act which otherwise has become a role-model for other countries to follow.

Repeal Sections 27 and 28 of RTI Act

Sections 27 and 28 giving powers to appropriate governments and competent authorities to frame their own rules are being grossly misused. Several state-governments and competent authorities including some high courts devised such rules which contradicted various sections of RTI Act itself! Even Delhi High Court in the referred verdict in the case WP(C)12714/2009 has discussed at length power defined under these sections about framing rules. Many public-authorities have even fixed RTI fees and its mode of payment differently in vast contrast to that laid down under 'The Right To Information (Regulation of fee and cost) Rules' where it is clearly mentioned that RTI fees should be rupees ten. RTI Act and its rules should be uniform all over the country for all states and competent authorities to remove confusions and misuse of power to harass users of RTI Act, and as such these two sections 27 and 28 should be repealed.

Definition of competent authority

Delhi High Court in the referred verdict in the case WP(C)12714/2009 has also questioned validity of chief information commissioner as competent authority for Central Information Commission. For removing such confusion, sub-section 2(e)(vi) may be added for epartmental heads at all public-authorities to be competent authorities for respective public-authorities. But such power to departmental heads for becoming competent authorities should be given by first repealing section 28 (also section 27) so as to avoid misuse of power as competent authorities to act against basic spirit of RTI Act.

Constitution of benches at Information Commissions

It is totally impractical that all the petitions having reached Information Commissions may be heard by all the information commissioners. Chief information commissioner should have power as head of a quasi-judicial body to constitute benches as deemed fit for smooth functioning of Information Commission.

Power to review verdicts of information commissioners by larger benches

Such a provision also favoured by Central Information Commission is necessary to minimise cases reaching to courts against verdicts of information commissioners. But review should be allowed in very selective cases having apparent error of law-point in verdicts by information commissioners. For this, legal-departments at Information Commissions should be adequately staffed with each review-petition requiring clearance from these legal-departments. Otherwise review if allowed for all verdicts may create another appellate authority without any meaning. However, Delhi High Court has rightly opined that all decisions by Information Commissions should be announced during proceedings only. It is observed that review is mainly sought usually in case of reserved verdicts.

Incorporating RTI fees and mode of payment in RTI Act itself

Many state governments and competent authorities have misused power under section 27 and 28 to have RTI fees other than rupees ten as mentioned in rule-book. Even mode of payment is quite cumbersome at some places like at Bombay High Court where stamp-papers worth rupees twelve rather than postal-orders/pay-orders/cash etc are required towards RTI fees. Moreover, despite repeated DoPT circulars, many public-authorities insist on name of payees on postal-orders/pay-orders etc other than 'accounts officer'. To remove all confusions, RTI Act should incorporate a new section mentioning rupees ten as RTI fees payable in name of 'accounts officer' through cash/postal-order/pay-order only. Even postal-department should be directed to issue special commission-free postal-orders of rupees ten with payees name pre-printed as 'accounts officer' exclusively for RTI purposes.

To save time and money for both the public-authorities and of RTI petitioners, say first six pages should be provided free-of-cost, charging from the first page in case copied pages exceed six. Public-authorities should be required to send all replies by ensured and economical Speed Post on destinations with Speed Post centres, and by registered post on other destinations.

Adding another sub-section 19(11)

Written submissions by public-authorities at least twenty days before scheduled hearing at Information Commissions should be made compulsory with a copy to the petitioner. Since public-authorities are much-more elaborative in their response at the commission, ever-increasing work-load on the commissions can be considerably reduced by abandoning the hearing in case petitioner is satisfied by suggested compulsory written submissions of public-authorities.

Penal-provision for appellate authorities and competent authorities

Recommendations of Central Information Commission for providing penalties for defaulting appellate authorities should be added in section 20 which presently spells out penal-provision only for public information officers. Provision for penalising competent authorities for not complying with provisions of providing necessary information as mandatory under various sub-sections of section 4 of RTI Act should also be there.

Courtesy_


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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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