DoPT and CIC on war path over constitution of benches

A controversial circular has triggered a war between Department of Personnel and Central Information Commission with the former questioning the decision of Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah to constitute benches for hearing RTI appeals.

The DoPT, which is a nodal agency to monitor the implementation of Right to Information Act in the country, has said the Act does not empower the Chief Information Commissioner to constitute such benches.

"The matter (constitution of benches by CIC and SICs) has been examined in consultation with the department of legal affairs, which has pointed out that the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commissions could function through benches only if there was such a specific provision in the Act," the circular read.

When contacted Habibullah said the interpretation of the DoPT was wrong and adequate reply would be sent.

The circular advised the Commission to hear complaints and appeals as per provisions under section 2(b) of the RTI Act, which says that Central Information Commission shall consist of the Chief Information Commissioner and such number of Central Information Commissioners, not exceeding ten, as may be deemed necessary.

Habibullah, who is in Mumbai told PTI over phone that the matter was clearly dealt in a full bench hearing of the Commission in the case of Pyarelal versus Indian Railways in 2007 and as the DoPT has not challenged the same in the Court the decision remains a binding.

The issue of constitution of such benches was raised during the internal meeting of all the information commissioners where it was decided to advise DOPT to adhere to its authority under the RTI Act, 2005.

"The Central Information Commission is expected to work without being subjected to directions by any other authority under this (RTI) Act and it is needless to say that any other authority would implicitly include the Government and Public authority," the full bench of the Commission had held in the Pyarelal versus Indian Railways case.

In its decision the Commission, quoting relevant sections of the RTI Act, has also held that "general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the Commission vests in the Chief Information Commissioner and he may exercise all such powers which may be exercises or done by the CIC autonomously.

"We have cleared everything in this decision. They are not supposed to dictate us on the working of the Commission. If they had any issues regarding this decision, they could have reached court challenging it," Habibullah said.
Source: Zee News


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