The Delhi High Court has set aside the Central Information Commission (CIC) order declaring ministers as "public authorities" under the transparency law.
Justice Vibhu Bakhru overturned the March 12, 2016 order of the CIC, declaring the "ministers in the Union Government and all State Governments as public authorities" under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
"There was no occasion for the CIC to enter upon the question as to whether a Minister is a public authority under Section 2(h) of the Act. Further, directions issued by the CIC are also wholly outside the scope of the matter before CIC.
"In view of the above, the order dated March 12, 2016 cannot be sustained and is, accordingly, set aside," it said.
The court's order came on the Centre's appeal against the CIC order.
The CIC directive that ministers were answerable under the RTI Act would mean that people can directly send questions to a minister by filing an RTI application which will be answered by a public information officer in his office.
The case emanates from the application filed by a man on November 20, 2014 before Additional Private Secretary, Minister of Law and Justice seeking to know the time period of minister or minister of state meeting the general public.
As the information sought was not received, he filed an appeal in January 2015, to which the Central Public Information Officer sent a response on January 16, 2015 informing him that "no specific time has been given for the meeting of General Public with the Minister. However, as and when requests are received, appointments are given subject to the convenience of the Minister".
Thereafter, the RTI applicant filed a second appeal with principal grievance that he had not received the information sought for within the specified time and therefore, prayed that certain action be taken against the concerned CPIO.
Presented with this appeal, the CIC went on to frame the questions whether the minister or his office was a "public authority" under the RTI Act and whether a citizen has right to information sought and whether the minister has corresponding obligation to give it.
The questions were answered in the affirmative by the CIC which also passed a string of directions and recommendations.
The CIC issued directions to the government to provide the necessary support to each minister including designating some officers or appointing some as Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities.
It had also directed that ministers be given an official website for suo motu disclosure of information with periodical updating as prescribed under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
The Commission had recommended that the oath of secrecy which is required to be taken by the ministers be replaced with the oath of transparency.
While hearing the appeal filed by the Centre, the Justice Bakhru observed, "this court finds it difficult to understand as to how the questions as framed by the CIC arise in the appeal preferred by the respondent no.2 (man)".
"The information as sought was provided to him and there was no dispute that he was entitled to such information. The only grievance voiced by him was regarding the delay in providing him with the information as sought by him.
"Thus, the only prayer made by respondent no.2 before the CIC was that action be taken against the CPIO and the First Appellate Authority under the provisions of the Act," it said, adding that "directions issued by the CIC were wholly outside the scope of the matter before the CIC".
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