Judges will head RTI panels now, rules SC

New Delhi (TIP): The Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions will now be headed by judges, courtesy a Supreme Court controversial judgment on Thursday that ended the tradition of retired bureaucrats gracing the statutory bodies constituted under the Right to Information 2005.

Going by the rule that the functions of the CIC and the State Information Commissions was necessarily judicial in nature, the apex court held, “Chief Information Commissioner at the Centre or State level shall only be a person who is or has been a Chief Justice of the High Court or a Judge of the Supreme Court,” said a bench of Justices AK Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar. Such appointment shall be in consultation with the Chief Justice of India, it added.

The court further ruled that the Commissions at Centre and States would hold sittings in benches comprising of two members each, one being a judicial member and the other an expert member, drawn among persons of public eminence having wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media, or administration and governance. By stating so, the court held that the Centre may preferably consider appointing judges and lawyers as Information Commissioners as well.

While the slew of directions would require the Centre to suitably amend the RTI Act, particularly Sections 12(5), 12(6), 15(5) and 15(6) of the 2005 Act, the court directed the Centre to undertake this exercise at the earliest to bring it in consonance with the Constitutional mandate. It upheld the validity of the above Sections of the Act along with the recommended changes.

The order of the court came on a PIL filed by one Namit Sharma, who pointed out that the role of CIC and State commissions under RTI being largely judicial work, interest of justice demanded having judicial members to head such bodies. Currently, none of the eight CIC members have a judicial background.

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It found the duties of these statutory bodies to be largely adjudicatory in nature. It said, “They are required to give notice to the parties, offer them the opportunity of hearing and pass reasoned orders.” In doing so, the court held, the authorities need to strike a balance between freedom under Article 19(1)(a) — right to know, and Article 21 relating to right to privacy. Regarding appointment of expert members, the bench suggested drawing up a panel of persons empanelled by DoPT or the concerned State Ministry, three months prior to the creation of vacancy.

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