As reported by Joseph John, Tuesday, June 17, 2008 in Indian Express
Raipur, June 16: Government institutions in Chhattisgarh have found a loophole to duck orders passed by the State Information Commission: that it doesn’t have the required quorum to issue such instructions.
Top posts in the State Information Commission, Lok Aayog (the Anti-Corruption Commission) State Human Rights Commission and State Public Service Commission have been either lying vacant or are under the temporary charge of others.
Recently, the Chhattisgarh State Electricity Board (CSEB) refused to abide by an order passed by Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) A K Vijayvargiya, moving the high court against his jurisdiction on the ground of lack of “statutory quorum” as required under the Right to Information Act. The CSEB contended that a single member couldn’t pass the order, as the CIC has to delegate his powers under the Act.
The issue came up when Mohan Aunty filed an application under the RTI, seeking the report of the Sohani Committee on wage revision of the CSEB staff. Subsequently, the matter reached the CIC, which directed the CSEB to provide the information sought by the applicant.
However, the CSEB refused to comply and moved the high court, pointing out that the RTI Act clearly states that the State Information Commission (SIC) should have one CIC and not more than 10 Information Commissioners, to be appointed by the Governor.
Apart from the electricity board, the Bilaspur-based Guru Ghasidas University and four other institutions have also filed petitions in the high court, challenging the authority of the CIC to pass orders on various grounds, including “lack of statutory quorum”.
Admitting the lack of numbers, SIC Secretary S P Trivedi said: “It’s up to the state Government to appoint Information Commissioners. The commission has no say in such matters... There are many other states where the CIC or the Information Commissioners are yet to be appointed.”
Trivedi added that the RTI Act was clear that the CIC could hear appeals and pass orders. “If anyone challenges this, it is up to the state Government to defend in court.”
The situation in the Chhattisgarh Lok Aayog, constituted to fight corruption, is no different. While Justice K M Agrawal is the Chief Lok Ayukta, the post of Lok Ayukta has been vacant since the beginning. Agarwal is already on an extension, and his tenure is due to end this August.
With nearly 500 odd cases pending with the Lok Aayog, questions are now being raised over the effectiveness of the anti-corruption commission.
Says senior advocate Kanak Tiwari: “The Lok Ayukta of undivided Madhya Pradesh had vast powers. The scope of the Lok Aayog in Chhattisgarh is much less and it lacks the powers to get complaints investigated by its own team. The state bureau of economic offences and anti-corruption bureau are not under the Lok Aayog. Besides, the composition of the Lok Aayog is also different from that of the one in Madhya Pradesh.”
The Chhattisgarh State Human Rights Commission is also on the same track. The Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 stipulates that the panel shall consist of a chairperson who has been the chief justice of a high court. However, it has been headed by an acting chairman for the past more than four years.
Retired district judge L J Singh, who is officiating, is also due to retire later this year. The commission receives an average of 2,200 complaints from across the state every year.
During the last three years, the State Public Service Commission, its two chairmen and even members have been in the midst of controversies over irregularities in examinations and charges of corruption.
Trouble began in the PSC after the commission declared the results of the state civil services preliminary examination 2003. As irregularities in examination came to light, PSC member Chandrashekhar Sahu quit his post, demanding a probe.
Is there any such provision exists in the Original Act & Rule?
In this regard reproduce here an old news clip connected to above.
Govt bids to blunt CIC sting
As Reported by Manoj Mitta,TNN 28 Aug 2006
NEW DELHI: In its latest bid to keep file notings beyond the reach of citizens, government has come up with a legal argument that will have repercussions beyond the Right to Information Act, 2005.
About 10 months after the law came into force, department of personnel and training (DoPT) said last week for the first time that appeals being filed before Central Information Commission cannot be heard by separate benches.
Quoting the opinion of additional solicitor-general Gopal Subramanium, DoPT denied that there was any provision in RTI Act enabling the head of CIC, Wajahat Habibullah, to constitute separate benches. Regardless of administrative efficiency, DoPT said every appeal will have to be "necessarily heard by all the members" of CIC.
The provocation for such a belated discovery of the alleged lacuna in RTI Act was an order passed by a single-member bench of CIC, O P Kejariwal, on July 13 directing DoPT to remove from its website a misleading claim to the effect that file notings made by ministers and bureaucrats could not disclosed to citizens.
In an obvious dilatory tactic, DoPT has sought to upset CIC's arrangement of dividing work among its five members and constituting separate benches under Section 12(4) of the Act, which says that the head of CIC "shall be assisted" by its members in the exercise of all its powers.
DoPT took a narrow view of Section 12(4) which, it said, pertains only to "internal management and functioning of the commission and does not include power to allocate business to be disposed of by a quorum consisting of a single member".
Gopal Subramanium sought to buttress this view by citing the example of the Consumer Protection Act 1986, which originally did not contain any provision for separate benches. It was only after an amendment to that effect was made in 2002 did the National Consumer Commission begin to constitute separate benches.
The 2002 amendment specifically said that the "jurisdiction, powers and authority of the National Consumer Commission may be exercised by benches thereof". Subramanium said that in the absence of such a provision in the RTI Act, all orders passed so far by various benches of CIC are "void".
If this interpretation made by Subramanium and DoPT were to be accepted, it would undermine the functioning of not just CIC but other apex bodies such as National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Securities Appellate Tribunal.
Though NHRC, for instance, is headed by a retired Chief Justice of India, it has always functioned through benches on the basis of a general enabling provision similar to the one in the RTI Act. Section 10(2) of the Human Rights Act 1993 simply says: "The commission shall regulate its own procedure."
The absence of an express provision did not stop successive chairmen of NHRC from constituting benches. The NHRC experience reinforces the suspicion that DoPT is trying to make a case of procedural irregularity against CIC in order to buy time on the issue of file notings.
While bodies like consumer commission, TDSAT and MRTPC constitute benches on the basis of specific provisions, there are others like CIC, NHRC and SAT that do the same on the basis of general provisions.
Re: RTI Undermined as C'garh panel posts lie vacant
Originally Posted by prbhat_gen
i have it somewhere or might have heard in the TV news, that the GOI is planning to amend the RTI Act 2005, wherein the response time for the PIO will be increased to 180 days.
I think that was as per orders issued by Madhya Pradesh Govt.
Therefore, that should be applicable only to PA's under MP.
In any case, it is bad in law. The time period of 30 days for response is incorporated in the main RTI Act itself. Any change in the response period has to be by way of an amendment by Parliament (since original Act was legislated by Parliament). Government of MP is not the competent authority to issue such instructions/notice/circular/GO/etc.
Readers may please note that after 6 months a new Government will be in place in MP. The present Chief Minister and several Ministers of the present Government have been exposed using RTI. Probably that is the reason for the "six months" instructions.