The Central Information Commission (CIC) on July 24 directed the Department of Justice (DoJ) to provide a clear, cogent and precise response to an RTI application filed by a transparency activist Venkatesh Nayak seeking copies of the proposals sent by the Government of India to the Chief Justices of High Courts for ensuring due consideration to be given to suitable candidates belonging to SCs, STs, OBCs, Minorities, and Women while sending proposals for appointment as Judges.
The CIC also took serious note of DoJ’s failure to respond to the RTI application and the first appeal within specified time limits and directed as follows:
“Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by the Appellant and in the light of the decisions cited above as also the provisions of the Act as per which a clear, cogent and timely response ought to be provided by the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) and the First Appellant Authority (FAA)”.
This followed an appeal filed by RTI applicant Venkatesh Nayak after not receiving a reply from the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), Department of Justice.
Even in its 5-month late reply, DoJ cited “confidentiality” for all communication between the Central Government and the Chief Justices and a 10-year old RTI case that was pending in the Supreme Court of India at that time to refuse to part with any information.
Speaking to The Leaflet, Venkatesh Nayak said, “It appears, citizens have to struggle for several years to realise their right to know about the action taken to represent societal diversity in the High Courts and the Supreme Court. Despite clear case law that has emerged on the issue of people’s Right to Know, even basic information about the process of selecting individuals who will wield the power over a matter concerning life and death is unavailable despite long years of struggle”.
In the CIC, Nayak contended that the reference made by the DoJ to the order of the Supreme Court in SLP (C) No 32855/2009 dated December 4, 2009, in CPIO and Anr vs Subhash Chandra Agrawal to deny information under section 8 (1)(b) of the RTI Act, 2005 was not tenable at this stage since the said matter had been finally decided by the Apex Court in Civil Appeal No 10044/10045/2683 of 2010 vide judgment dated November 13, 2019, wherein the CPIO, Supreme Court of India was directed to re-examine the matter after following the procedure under Section 11(1) of the RTI Act as the information related to third parties.
During the hearing, the Appellant also stated that at this stage he would be satisfied if the total number of proposals relating to SC, ST, OBC, Minorities, and Women candidates is provided to him.
After hearing the appellant, the CIC last week remanded a two-and-a-half-year-old RTI query back to the DoJ for fresh consideration.
Nayak told The Leaflet “The recommending authorities from HCs and the Collegium, which has the final say regarding such appointments, would do well to become more transparent about their actions. Remanding such maters back to the executive again and again which resists transparency as happened in the Constitution Bench case in November 2019 does not serve much purpose. The duty of transparency is not a football to kick around in the game of block and tackle”.
The Commission also instructed the DoJ to convene periodic conferences/seminars to sensitize, familiarize and educate the concerned officials about the relevant provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 for effective discharge of its duties and responsibilities.