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HindustanTimes Thu,28 Aug 2014

HC notice to AG on plea to bring the office under RTI ambit

Harish V Nair, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, April 04, 2013
First Published: 20:57 IST(4/4/2013) | Last Updated: 20:58 IST(4/4/2013)

The Delhi High Court on Thursday sought a response from the Attorney General on a plea to declare the office as a  "public authority" and bring it under the ambit of Right to Information Act.

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Justice GS Sistani was hearing an appeal filed by Delhi-based RTI activist Subhash Chandra Aggarwal against a decision of the Central Information Commission (CIC) holding that the office of AG does not come under RTI Act.

Aggarwal's counsel Prashant Bhushan said the question that what information can be given (by AG) to an information seeker is different from the plea that the office be declared a public office under the RTI.

"Instead of seeking information from the Attorney General's office, a person may seek information from the persons (government and its departments) to whom advice has been rendered," the court said, adding it has also been argued that AG has a lawyer-client relationship with the government and his advice is protected against revelation under the law.

Bhushan said the issue as to whether the office of AG falls under the RTI or not is "different from the issue as to what information may or may not be given under the RTI".

The court then asked Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra, appearing for the AG's office, to file the reply and fixed the matter for hearing on August 18.
Earlier, the Attorney General had opposed the plea on various grounds including that the advice rendered by him to the state and its authorities is protected under the law.

The ASG had also said that the AG has a "fiduciary" (a relation of trust) with the government and moreover, "there is no establishment attached with the office of the AG".

In his plea, Aggarwal said that any attempt to keep the office of AG out of the RTI Act would defeat the fundamental right of citizens to get information about a public authority.

"The interpretation as given by the CIC would defeat the citizens fundamental right to information to hold the state and all its instrumentalities to account."
The activist said even authorities established under any law or under any notification are covered by the definition of public authority.

The petition contended that as far as AG at the Centre and advocate generals at the state-level are concerned, they are public authorities by virtue of being a "authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted by or under the Constitution" as required by the Sec 2(h) of
RTI Act.

The petition said, "If the office of Attorney General is not established under the Constitution, then no office or post can be said to be established under the Constitution within the meaning of Sec 2(h) of the RTI Act, defeating the entire object of the Act itself that effectuates the fundamental right to know of the citizens of this country.

"Attorney General can and does attend Cabinet Meetings and be present in Parliament," the petition said adding that in several states Advocate Generals are already declared as public-authority.

"If Advocate Generals in states are public-authority as defined under RTI Act, there is no reason that Attorney General may not be a public-authority likewise." The high constitutional office of the Attorney General cannot be allowed to use technical arguments to defeat the fundamental right of the citizens, it said.


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