The four-member bench constituted by Chief Information Commissioner R K Mathur to adjudicate complaints that political parties are not adhering to the provisions of the RTI Act has not been set up “properly and legally”, a complainant has alleged. Activist R K Jain, on whose petition the Delhi High Court had directed the CIC to decide the matter, has questioned the legality of the constitution of the new bench, which replaced the three-member panel under Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu. The three-member panel headed by Acharyulu was hearing the matter since July 22, 2016, until Bimal Julka, one of its members, decided to recuse himself citing workload.
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 had 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, a lawyer, 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.
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“The full bench of three Information Commissioner, 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 for it. He said none of the members of the three-member bench has referred the matter back to the Chief Information Commission, hence, he has no jurisdiction to constitute a further 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. 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. Jain had filed a complaint after he did not get any response to his RTI applications seeking to know the details of budget, constitution, elections etc in these political parties. Seeing delay in hearing the matter by the CIC, he had approached the Delhi High Court. In 2014, the Delhi High Court had directed the CIC to complete the hearing in the matter within six months.