20 April 2022 11:00 AM GMT
The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sought the stand of Central Government on a plea seeking details of meetings of the Selection Committee constituted under the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act 2013 for selecting the Chairperson and members of the Lokpal. Justice Yashwant Varma was dealing with a plea filed by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, challenging an order dated January 28, 2021 passed by the...
The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sought the stand of Central Government on a plea seeking details of meetings of the Selection Committee constituted under the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act 2013 for selecting the Chairperson and members of the Lokpal.
Justice Yashwant Varma was dealing with a plea filed by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj, challenging an order dated January 28, 2021 passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) upholding the decision of the First Appellate Authority denying copy of the minutes of the meetings of the Selection Committee.
The petitioner is represented by Advocate Prashant Bhushan.
The CPIO of the Department of Personnel and Training (DqPT) had refused to provide a copy of the minutes of the meetings claiming that the authorship of such documents by high level dignitaries did not vest in the DoPT and that the same had been shared as secret documents.
"It's a good interesting question. We will hear it," said Justice Varma today while granting time to Amit Mahajan, standing counsel for Central Government, to obtain instructions in the matter.
At the outset, Mahajan objected to one of the grounds mentioned in the plea- that though the Act was passed in 2013, the government failed to make appointments for over 5 years and that the selection committee headed by Prime Minister met in March 2018, after a contempt petition was filed to the Supreme Court.
Hearing Mahajan, the Court clarified that the allegations raised with regards to the sanctity of selection proceedings is not something which the Court was proposing to deal with.
"We are making it very clear that the ultimate recommendation made or validity of the selection process, those are not the issues that we propose to go into," the Court remarked.
The Court added that the only question that it will be considering is whether the same falls within the meaning of information or whether there are any instructions which restricts Centre from making the disclosure.
Accordingly, the matter was posted for hearing next on May 23.
The plea avers that under the RTI Act, access to information can be rejected only on the grounds mentioned in sec. 8 or sec. 9 and that there is no provision for denying information merely because the authorship vests in high level dignitaries and not in the public authority or because some document is shared as secret.
"The disclosure of information that forms the basis of the decisions of the Selection Committee is in the interest of the public at large since the public has a right to know the basis on which the chairperson and members of the Lokpal are selected," the plea states.
It adds "Therefore, irrespective of the claims of secrecy of a document by the parties in which the authorship of a document may vest. however high ranking they may be. the PIO in deciding to not disclose information, has to rely on the grounds specified in Sections 8 or 9 to deny information."
The petition also argued that transparency in appointment to oversight bodies is a crucial safeguard against arbitrariness in appointments and also to ensure their independent functioning.
Therefore, the plea states that the denial of information is in complete violation of not only the RTI Act but also of the principle of transparency in the selection process as enshrined in the Lokpal Act and accountability in the functioning of public office.
Accordingly, the plea seeks setting aside of the impugned order passed by the CIC and also to direct the CPIO, DoPT, to disclose the information sought under the Right to Information Act 2005.
Case Title: Anjali Bhardwaj v. UNION OF INDIA Through CPIO Ministry of Personnel PG Pension