Why an appeal mechanism, ando penalties for delays

Why in News?A recent High Court judgement overturned the Central Information Commissioner’s order regarding SC rules being inconsistent with RTI Act.

Background• The CIC had held that the SC rules are inconsistent with the RTI Act and that the Registry of courts must respond to applications within the RTI framework alone.• This was after the SC Registry had rejected RTI application and asked the petitioner to apply under the Supreme Court Rules only for seeking any information.• The Registry filed a writ petition before the Delhi HC in 2011 in which the Court stayed CIC’s decision without addressing Section 23 of the RTI Act.

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In November, 2017, HC, finally, overturned CIC’s order. Judiciary and RTI• Numerous petitions seeking information from the court under RTI are asked to be applied under SC rules. Apart from this various courts have also framed their own rules under which various regulations.• Further, although the courts were included in the definition of Public Authorities (section 2 (h)) most of the HCs did not even appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs) even months after this act came to force which denied people their right toinformation.• However, the Supreme Court Rules undermined the RTI in four key ways.

Unlike the RTI Act, the Rules do not provide for:o a time frame for furnishing information;o an appeal mechanism, ando penalties for delays or wrongful refusal of information.o makes disclosures to citizens contingent upon “good cause shown”.In sum, the Rules allowed the judiciary to provide information at its unquestionable discretion, violating the text and spirit of the RTI.• The RTI Act does not permit any appeals to be entertained by any court under Section 23. Nevertheless, the contradiction arises from the fact that the Indian Constitution gives powers to the Supreme Court and the high courts that override any statute.

• Further, SC has said that the decision of the Registrar General of the Court will be final and not subject to any independent appeal to Central Information Commission. These issues have brought the credibility of judges under question.Including Judiciary under RTIPros• It will increase the amount of transparency in judiciary in case of appointment of judges as it may decrease nepotism and despotism as criticized to be present in judiciary.• Courts have always been questioned for pending cases. RTI can place yardstick among judiciary for timely disposure of justice.• It will increase accountability of judiciary as judges can be held accountable for their decisions.• It will increase the faith of people if they could also know about judicial working.Cons• It may compromise secrecy & security involved in certain cases.

This may prove detrimental for our country.• It may compromise independence of judiciary as specified by constitution and may lead to politicization ofjudiciary.• It may create extra burden on judiciary and delays in judicial appointments & transfers as an over consciousapproach may be adopted to avoid conflicts.

Conclusion• In the famous Raj Narain Vs Indira Gandhi case, the SC laid down the foundation of Right to Information inIndia stating that the people of the country have the right to know about every public act, which is derivedfrom the concept of freedom of speech. However, the judiciary has itself undermined the same right toinformation. The Supreme Court should begin practicing what it preaches.• While allowing the judiciary to be controlled and regulated by the executive or the legislature might befraught with danger, it is also dangerous to allow the judiciary to function without any semblance ofaccountability and public scrutiny.• It has been specified by the RTI Act that any law, rule, or regulation that is in conflict with the RTI Act shall besubservient to the RTI Act. Therefore, instead of looking for the loopholes in the law and ascertaining anescape clause to avoid disclosure, the law should be interpreted by the Supreme Court in its true spirit, andembrace disclosure of information as a matter of law.• It is high time that higher judiciary be brought under RTI Act with following limitations:o Sub-judice case where disclosed information can influence judge’s verdict.o Confidential information to maintain unity and integrity of nation.o If the information does not deal with issue of a public importance and doesn’t affect the person in anyway.

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