Delhi High Court stayed a CIC order on Friday which has held that Ministers in the Union and state cabinets were “public authorities” and liable to answer public questions addressed to them under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva, by an interim order, put on hold the operation of the March 12 decision of the Central Information Commission (CIC) which had also recommended to the Centre and states “to provide necessary support to each minister, including designating some officers, or appointing Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities.”
The direction came on the plea filed by the Centre challenging the CIC’s March 12 order which had also ordered that ‘oath of secrecy’ be replaced with ‘oath of transparency’ so that the minister respects the right to information of citizens and be answerable and accountable to them.
The high court while staying the order, issued notice to the complainant on whose plea CIC had passed the direction and sought his reply by next date of hearing on August 23.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain, appearing for the Centre, argued that the CIC had given recommendations which were beyond its jurisdiction. In its plea filed through central government standing counsel, Jasmeet Singh, the government had said that the CIC order was “bad in law and on facts” and that the commission had “exceeded the mandate” given to it under the RTI Act.
The CIC order had come on an application filed by Ahmednagar resident Hemant Dhag, who had sought to know from the staff of the then Union Minister for Law and Justice the scheduled time for people to meet the Cabinet Minister and Minister of State. He was directed to seek time from the Minister himself.
The government in its petition said that the information sought was furnished on January 16, 2015, despite which an appeal was filed on April 14, 2015.
CIC in its March 12 order had also directed the ministers in the Centre and states to put in place RTI processing machinery in their respective offices and comply with suo motu disclosure clauses of the RTI Act.
It had also recommended implementation of recommendations of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.