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Guidelines for RTI law should evolve to avoid 'criminal intimidation': SC

The fear of action from the people in power prevents many connected persons from filing pleas under RTI

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

A view of the Supreme Court | Photo: PTI
A view of the Supreme Court | Photo: PTI

The Supreme Court Monday said there is a need to evolve guidelines for the Right to Information (RTI) law to stop its misuse and "criminal intimidation" by those who are not connected with the issues raised.

The top court, which was hearing a plea on filling up of vacancies of information commissioners (ICs) in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the State Information Commissions (SICs), raised the issue of abuse of RTI law by those who have no connection with the information sought.

"We are not against the RTI Act but we think it is necessary to evolve some kind of guidelines to regulate this," said a bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant.

"People who are in no way connected to an issue file RTI. It sometimes amount to criminal intimidation, which is a nice word for blackmail. We are not against the right to information. But there is need for guidelines. It cannot be an unrivalled right," the bench said.

Terming the huge flow of applications under RTI as a "serious problem", the bench said though it was not opposed to the transparency law, there was a need to evolve some mechanism to ensure that only affected or concerned person take recourse of the power.

The CJI shared his experience as a judge of the Bombay High Court and said that an official once told him that functioning in Maharashtra "'mantralaya' (ministries) was paralysed" because of queries under RTI.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for activist Anjali Bhardwaj, referred to various apex court's judgements and said that the public has a fundamental right to know and an information seeker does not need to have a locus or personal interest in seeking information under RTI.

Bhushan then gave examples of electoral bond scheme and award of a government contract and said unconnected persons can take recourse of the RTI in seeking information as in the earlier case, no political party would like the scrutiny and in latter, a loser in bidding process will have the fear of getting blacklisted.

The fear of action from the people in power prevents many connected persons from filing pleas under RTI, he said.

"There are people who put on their letterheads 'RTI Consultant'...they call themselves 'RTI Activists'. Is that an occupation. There may be an axe to grind behind RTI requests. We want to find a way to stop the abuse of RTI Act," the bench said, adding that a time has come to look into the abuses.

"Let somebody in the business do this. One can understand if a connected person file an application under RTI. It cannot be (the case) anybody seeking anything..," it said.

"There has to be some kind of filter and some guidelines ...," the bench said, adding that such issues have been raised in other pleas and asked Bhushan to assist it when they (cases) come up for hearing.

The top court, meanwhile, directed the Centre and various state governments to appoint ICs in CIC and SICs within three months and also asked them put up on the website the names of members of search committee, meant for selection and appointment of Central Information Commission's information commissioners.

First Published: Mon, December 16 2019. 19:15 IST
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