NEW DELHI: The CIC has postponed the hearing by its newly constituted bench of complaints against political parties for not adhering to its order to function within the ambit of the RTI Act after a complainant alleged that it was not set up "properly and legally".
Noted lawyer and activist R K Jain has objected to the manner in which the earlier three-member bench headed by Sridhar Acharyulu was dissolved without assigning any reason and a new four-member bench was constituted by Chief Information Commissioner R K Mathur.
Jain -- who is a petitioner in complaints filed against six national parties -- the BJP, the Congress, the CPM, the CPI, the BSP and the NCP -- has cited several verdicts of the Supreme Court and High Courts to buttress his claim that the new bench did not conform to courts' directives in various cases.
After the submissions were received, a meeting was called by the Chief Information Commissioner R K Mathur where it was decided to defer the hearing scheduled for August 16 till legal opinion was taken.
In the file notings related to postponement of the hearing it was recorded, "It seems appropriate to seek legal opinion in the matter. The hearing by the bench in the matter may be postponed till a view is taken in the matter."
A full Bench of the Commission had brought six national parties-- the Congress, the BJP, the NCP, the CPI, the CPM and the BSP under the ambit of the RTI Act on 3 June, 2013. But these parties did not adhere to directives of the Commission and did not respond to RTI applications filed by Jain and other activists including Subhash Agrawal.
Jain filed a complaint against these parties with the Commission. Not getting a hearing, he approached the Delhi High Court which directed the CIC to complete the hearing within six months.
On July 22, 2016, a three-member Bench headed by Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu started hearing the matter and Bimal Julka, one of its members, decided to recuse himself citing workload in December last year. After his recusal, Mathur had put the matter in abeyance.
No member of the bench headed by Acharyulu, which had heard the matter for nearly five months, has found a place on the new panel.
Earlier, Acharyulu was taken off cases pertaining to the Ministry of Human Resource Development after he ordered disclosure of academic records of the BA course of Delhi University of 1978, the year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is understood to have passed the examination.
In his objection submitted to the Commission, Jain said the Chief Information Commissioner has no power under the RTI Act to dissolve an already constituted full bench of three information commissioners and form a fresh bench without assigning or recording any reason. He said that none of the members on the new bench possesses legal qualification and experience in the legal field which goes against the directives of the Supreme Court in a separate matter related to the RTI Act.
"The full bench of three Information Commissioners, which has been dissolved, was presided by M S Acharyulu who is a legally qualified person being LL.M. and with experience in the legal field, while the present four-member bench constituted in place thereof, does not comprise any member who possesses legal qualifications and experience in the field of law," Jain claimed. It is against the apex court directives, he added.
Citing a Gujarat High Court verdict, he said Chief Justice of the High Court cannot constitute a larger Bench unless the matter is referred to him by a competent bench. He said none of the members of the three-member bench has referred the matter back to the Chief Information Commissioner, hence, he has no jurisdiction to constitute a larger bench of four Information Commissioners.
"The constitution of a four-member bench is not in the interest of justice because large number of cases are listed before the said bench and, if the bench is equally divided, then matter has to be reheard. This may delay the disposal of the present complaint...," he said.