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Sunday, May 23, 2010

CIC exceeding its powers: Delhi High Court

A Division Bench of Delhi High Court, comprising of Justices B D Ahmed and Veena Birbal, in a historic judgement on Friday, the 21.05.10, came down heavily on CIC and its chief on its order against VC DDA after he failed to appear before it with regard to an RTI matter.

CIC had passed orders dated 22.09.09 on a complaint filed by Mr Sarabjit Roy , Advocate, in 2005 requesting for directions to DDA to fulfil its obligation to provide info required to be provided suo motto u/s 4 of RTIA05. CIC vide its orders dated 25.02.06 had directed PIO DDA to fulfil its obligation for suo motto declaration of info u/s 4 of RTIA05 within 30 days. Thereafter, Mr S Roy filed another complaint against DDA saying that CIC orders dated 25.02.06 had not been complied with by then. DDA thereafter uploaded voluminous info on its website. During hearing of Mr S Roys complaint on 03.09.09, CIC noted that voluminous info had since been uploaded on DDA website but it was not properly organized and was causing more confusion. CIC in its orders dated 22.09.09 directed VC DDA to be present personally at the next hearing in this matter and formed a committee to look into the allegation. Aggrieved by these orders, DDA filed a writ petition u/s 226 of Constitution of India requesting for (i) quashing of CIC Management Regulations 2007 on the ground that they were ultravires of RTIA05, (ii) quashing of Chap 4 with specific emphasis on regulation 20 of RTIA05 which made provision for conduct of an enquiry, (iii) expressed grief at the fact that VC DDA was required to be present at the hearing by CIC and that adverse comments were made against him when he could not thus be present. The petitioner pointed out that CIC did not have plenary powers which were vested with High Courts and Supreme Courts and had only the power to summon and enforce attendance for giving evidence.

“This is a case where the Central Information Commission and Chief Information Commissioner have travelled beyond their boundaries of power and have thereby transgressed the provisions of the very Act which created them,” said the Bench. It quashed the CIC management Regulations 2007, set aside the Commission’s order appointing an enquiry committee, comprising Director Ministry of Urban Development, Shujata Chaturvedi, Dunu Roy from Hazards Centre, an NGO, and Pankaj KP Shreyaskar, Joint Registrar, CIC to enquire into servicing of RTIA05 by all wings and sections of DDA. and set aside the CIC’s September 2009 order against VC DDA saying “no adverse inference could have been drawn for the absence of VC DDA. The Bench noted that CIC could call any person to be present in the hearing before it for the purposes of giving evidence—oral or written or for producing any document. The VC DDA was however not summoned for either giving oral evidence or written evidence or to produce any document or things in his possession. He was directed to be present for other reason, that power is not there with the CIC.”

In regard to suo motto declaration of info by public authorities, the bench noted that section 4 merely sets out the obligations of public authorities, it does not set out the machinery to enforce the implementation of these obligations.

It is well known that most public authorities have still not complied with the requirements of sec 4 of RTIA05. Its implementation will now become more difficult if CIC continues to have such casual attitude in this matter. In my opinion, a proper way to enforce sec 4 of RTIA would be for CIC to consider PIO as the prime nodal authority to ensure it is done and penalize him if it is not done. It is not necessary to call Heads of Offices for hearing in this matter (except for evidence to verify the statement of PIO, if any) and to constitute committees for this purpose. I think the judgement is very good and should be an eye openor for the very casual manner in which CIC is working for implementation of RTIA05. Instead of punishing the defaulter PIOs for non compliance of sec 4 of RTIA05, CIC tries to confuse the matter by appointing such committees to look into the allegations and calling Heads of Offices during hearing, which are both truly outside his powers.

M K Singhal

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