Right2Information

Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Govt jerks info panel: your order valid only if all of you hear case

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 23, 2006

Govt jerks info panel: your order valid only if all of you hear case

http://www.indianexpress.com/story/11221.html

RITU SARIN

Posted online: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 at 0000 hrs

New Delhi, August 22:Last week, Department of Personnel and Training Minister Suresh Pachauri announced that the Government was keeping on hold its move to change the Right To Information Act to keep file notings secret.

His Ministry, however, shows no signs of a rethink.

On the contrary, however, it has got Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium to fire off a five-page rebuttal (dated August 21) to the Central Information Commission rejecting its order that the DoPT remove from its website the notification that “information” under RTI Act does not include “file notings.”

Not only has it stood by its decision to keep file notings secret, it has also questioned the “propriety and legality” of the order arguing that because it was passed by only one member of the commission, it was “void.”

Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah told The Indian Express: “While I won’t say we are in open confrontation with the DoPT, they have asked us to review our earlier order. We will now seek legal opinion and decide on the course of action.’’

A retired Railway employee, Pyare Lal Verma, had sought information including file notings from the Railway Board. When this was refused to him, Verma had filed an appeal before the CIC. His appeal was heard by an Information Commissioner who passed an order on July 13 directing the DoPT to remove a notification from its website that “information’’ under RTI does not include “file notings.’’

Four days later, the DoPT told the CIC that the “Government had taken a conscious decision not to include file notings…and the matter may be placed before the full Commission.”

On August 8, the case was heard by Information Commissioner O P Kejriwal who directed the Ministry to comply with the earlier order by August 22.

In response, the DoPT sent a legal opinion from ASG Subramanium which called Kejriwal’s order “void’’ and sought to invalidate all single-bench appeal orders passed by the CIC so far.

The ASG’s opinion says: “In the absence of a provision authorizing the CIC to constitute seperate benches, appeals have to be necessarily heard by ALL the members of the CIC and not by a single member or by a bench consisting of two members. Any order passed by the CIC without following the aforesaid procedure is in violation of the RTI Act and, therefore, is void.’’

This opinion was sent to the CIC by Secretary, DoPT, L K Joshi, with a letter that says the Law Ministry was consulted on the issue on directions of the Prime Minister.

Habibullah, however, said that soon after the constitution of the CIC, he had taken an administrative decision to allocate different Ministries and Departments between the CIC and the four Information Commissioners and, as a result, the panel was settling around 15 appeals every day.

The ASG, however, questioned the legality of this arrangement and opined, “The CIC cannot place reliance upon Section 12(4) of the RTI Act since the provision pertains to internal management and functioning of the Commission and does not include power to allocate business to be disposed of by a quorum consisting of a single member.’’

ritu.sarin@expressindia.com

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2 Responses to “Govt jerks info panel: your order valid only if all of you hear case”

  1. ramesh wasudeo said

    sarin is absolutely right. decision on file notings was taken by union cabinet for moving an amendment bill in parliament and not for its implimentation by govt departments streight away.

    A Govt Resolution (GR) is binding on departments only in respect of specific powers vested in cabinet under a law and a law can be enacted or altered only by law making forum i.e parliament. one doubts if a GR was issued in the first place by the cabinet secretary to this effect.

    the RTI law in its present form does not provide for constituting a bench to hear appeals and petitions. perhaps it may be desirable, but for that the RTI needs to be amended in so far as the powers and obligations of ICs and CICs are concerned. No one is above law.

    CIC has unbridaled powers at present and should not succumb to pressures from DOPT. he needs to impose punishment under his power for commiting and abetting violation of the RTI law on the concerned PIO after granting hearing before two or three ICs bench as desired.

    rw

  2. […] Govt jerks info panel: your order valid only if all of you hear case […]

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