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RTI survives another attack

CIC tossed out the Govt view that individual commissioners had no powers to decide appeals, reports Aloke Tikku & Chetan Chauhan.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2007 00:24 IST

A quiet second attempt to maul your right to information has been put down.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has tossed out the government view that individual commissioners had no powers to decide appeals and issue directions to government bodies, saying this interpretation would make the law 'meaningless'.

"No such interpretation can ever be accepted which will make the Act, which confers the right on a citizen to access information, totally unworkable," a full bench of the commission headed by Wajahat Habibullah held on Monday, staving off the second attempt by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) to take the sting out of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

RTI campaigners Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia welcomed the CIC ruling. "DoPT’s reading of the law had the potential to kill the appeals procedure," said Kejriwal, a Magsaysay awardee.

The CIC also upheld public access to file notings under the law and rejected the contention that the commission had no powers to tell the department of personnel and training to remove a misleading portion of its website.

"No public authority, government or statutory organisation can ever claim that it is above the law," the commission held in its 25-page decision that asserted the autonomous character of the CIC.

The case had its origins in the railway ministry last year explaining its refusal to allow an applicant access to file notings on the plea that the website of DoPT– the nodal department for RTI – had excluded file notings out of the purview of the law.

The commission consequently told DoPT to correct the misleading portion of its website. This was around the same time that the government was making its first abortive attack on the law; finalising amendments to the RTI law that campaigners feared would 'cripple' the transparency law.

DoPT, however, questioned the validity of its directive, producing legal opinion to argue that every decision of the commission should be a full bench decision.

It was argued that legal provisions vesting the superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the commission in the chief information commissioner and his colleagues was only in context of executive functions like fitting coolers and air-conditioners, not for quasi-judicial functions.

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