CIC’s reconstitution of bench hearing complaints against pol parties questioned

Team Udayavani, Mar 26, 2018, 9:25 AM IST

New Delhi: Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyalu has questioned the manner in which the Chief Information Commissioner R K Mathur dissolved and reconstituted a bench hearing complaints against political parties, saying the move erodes the independence of individual information commissioners.

“It also raises serious questions about the independence of individual information commissioner, who can be part of a bench for some time and not for some other, against his will, without his consent and without a reason or without giving a reason. Can a larger bench be constituted without reference from the existing bench?,” Acharyalu asked in a scathing letter dated February 22, 2018, to Mathur, accessed by the PTI.

The letter circulated among all information commissioners in a recent meeting was a follow-up of a February 7 letter which also raised question marks on the manner in which bench of Sridhar Acharyulu, Sudhir Bhargava and Bimal Julka hearing complaints against six political parties was dissolved by Mathur.

The political parties — BJP, Congress, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPM –were brought under the ambit of the RTI by a full bench of the Commission in 2013 but it is alleged they were not following the directives resulting in complaints filed before the Commission. For six months in 2016, the bench had heard the case but in December that year, Julka recused himself citing his pending work.

After this, a new bench was constituted by Chief Information Commissioner R K Mathur in August 2017 in which none of the members of the previous bench was included. Interestingly in January 2017, Acharyulu was divested of hearing RTI matters of Human Resource Development Ministry, days after his order calling for disclosure of academic records of the Delhi University for the year in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi also passed out became public. Just 10 days before that he was assigned the ministry.

“Distribution and redistribution of subjects cannot be left to any single individual authority but to be decided by Commission as such in a reasonable manner,” he says in the letter. He said there should be a system and guidelines so that it becomes impossible to bring “external pressures” to change the subject of particular commission or remove one commissioner from a Bench.

The hearings in political parties’ matter have not taken place since a new four-member bench was constituted in August 2017 despite a Delhi High Court order to complete the case in a fixed time-limit. The four-member bench has also been reconstituted now after one of the members retired in January this year.

“After dozens of specific complaints, we are consuming years in the process. What kind of message are we sending across the nation? Why are we not discussing these issues in the CIC meetings?” Acharyulu said as he asked for a transparent, independent and deliberated decisions on the “critical issue of political parties” saying failing to do so will “seriously affect” its credibility.

“If we cannot do this, cannot act independently, cannot protect the individual independence of information commissioners, we cannot still claim to be an institution of accountability and transparency. “In such an event of a disaster, should this institution continue without a purpose as a burden on the people’s exchequer, and wait for people to demand to scrap off? Please think over,” he said.

Acharyalu said it was not just for the commissioner who was removed, but the entire CIC should know the fact of removal and reasons for it. He has demanded his letters dated February 7 and February 21, 2018 — addressed to Mathur and circulated among all information commissioners — be posted on the commission’s website. “As this issue is of high public interest, and because the people have right to information from political parties, these aspects must be deliberated and placed in public domain,” he said.

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