16 Dec 2019 11:53 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Monday observed that the RTI Act has come to be a weapon of intimidation, "blackmail" no less."Can it be one's profession to be a RTI activist? People who have no concern with a subject are filing RTIs to seek information!...The objective behind this law was to allow persons to draw out information that affects them. Now all sorts of people are filing all sorts...
The Supreme Court on Monday observed that the RTI Act has come to be a weapon of intimidation, "blackmail" no less.
"Can it be one's profession to be a RTI activist? People who have no concern with a subject are filing RTIs to seek information!...The objective behind this law was to allow persons to draw out information that affects them. Now all sorts of people are filing all sorts of applications...locus has no significance", noted Chief Justice S. A. Bobde.
"Is RTI activism an occupation? This is being put on letterheads nowadays and people who are in no way connected with the matter are filing RTI applications! This is a serious thing! It is basically section 506, IPC...criminal intimidation! which is just a better term for blackmail!", commented the bench, also comprising Justices B. R. Gavai and Surya Kant.
Hearing RTI Activist Anjali Bharadwaj's petition for the filling up of vacancies of Information Commissioners in the Central and state Information Commissions, the bench lamented that the transparency law is now being frequently invoked to promote specific, malafide interests, almost bringing the administration to a standstill as officials are fearful of taking any substantive decisions- "Nobody wishes to write something or take some stand because of this!"
"In Mumbai, I was told that the Ministry's functioning is practically paralysed for the fear of this law!", added the CJ
When Advocate Prashant Bhushan, for Bharadwaj, argued that only those who are corrupt has reason to fear the law, the CJ remarked that "not everybody is doing something illegal".
"We are not against RTI, the flow of information, but can it continue like this? As an unrestricted right, with anyone asking anything from anyone? Applicants are being erected against each other by rivals! An axe to grind behind RTI application!...there have to be some guidelines, some filter which can be rightfully employed...", the bench expressed, suggesting that the court take up the issue if a formal application is filed in this behalf.
Mr. Bhushan pleaded that the government does not want the RTI law and has made attempts to render it futile, that he was himself associated with the drafting of the RTI Act and that eliciting information on topics of public interest would only help in revealing any corrupt antics.
In response, the CJ rebuked, "Why else did we ask you come up with some guidelines? People file RTIs after consulting you. We want you to help in averting any abuse of the law. And you are behaving like there is no abuse? You are talking of a bonafide scenario, but there are so many incidents of blackmail and extortion! Locus is not anything unheard of! We have guidelines for PILs also. So why not for RTI?"
As to the issue of appointments to the Information Commissions and the transparency in the procedure of appointments, the CJ suggested that Mr. Bhushan may file a contempt plea if the court's February judgement in this regard is not being complied with-
"We will issue notice if a Supreme Court judgment is not adhered to".
The bench also reprimanded ASG Pinky Anand for the details of the search committee constituted recently not being published on the website, as mandated by the judgment. The court further directed that all appointments be made in 3 months.
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