In the biggest snub so far to the Central Information Commission (CIC) from the higher judiciary, the Delhi High Court on Friday ruled that its chief commissioner had no power to set up benches or inquiry committees.
The court quashed the information watchdog’s 2007 regulation that empowered it to set up benches to hear RTI disputes and appoint inquiry committees.
The court order puts a question mark over the legality of various benches of the CIC functioning in the capital, apart from the main bench headed by Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.
It comes at a time when there are at least 10,000 cases pending before the commission. Besides, there are nine information commissioners holding separate sittings at present.
The court order implies that all central RTI appeals must now be heard by all Information Commissions sitting jointly, like in the US Supreme Court.
“There is no such prescription under the RTI Act or the rules validly made thereunder which provides for such benches of the Central Information Commission,” said justices B.D. Ahmed and Veena Birbal.
The judges also reminded the CIC that it couldn’t behave like Supreme Court and High Courts and summon various public authorities. The court termed these regulations “ultra vires of the Right to Information Act 2005”.
The order against the information watchdog came in a case where the DDA challenged the CIC ruling of last year, asking it to provide details on implementation of master and zonal plan on its website to one RTI applicant Sarbajit Roy.
On September 22, 2009, a bench headed by Habibullah found Roy’s allegations true and, invoking the CIC regulations 2007, constituted a committee to go into all aspects and ensure the DDA implements it.
DDA’s counsel Ajay Verma questioned the CIC chief’s right to bring regulations, set up committees to hear cases and the panel’s summoning of the DDA’s vice chairman.