The Supreme Court Monday stated that the Right to Information cannot be an unrivalled right and said there was a need to stop its “misuse” and “criminal intimidation” by those who are not connected with the issues raised.
“People who are in no way connected to an issue file RTI. It sometimes amount to criminal intimidation, which is a nice word for blackmail. We are not against the right to information. But there is a need for guidelines. It cannot be an unrivalled right,” a bench, comprising of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, was quoted as saying by PTI.
The apex court made the remarks while hearing a plea on filling up of vacancies of information commissioners (ICs) in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the State Information Commissions (SICs).
Calling the huge flow of RTI applications a “serious problem”, the bench said though it was not opposed to the transparency law, there was a need to evolve a mechanism to ensure that only affected or concerned person take recourse to the legislation.
“We are not against the RTI Act but we think it is necessary to evolve some kind of guidelines to regulate this,” the bench said.
While sharing his personal experience as a judge of the Bombay High Court, the CJI said that an official once told him that functioning in Maharashtra mantralaya (ministries) was paralysed” because of queries under RTI.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for activist Anjali Bhardwaj, while referring to various apex court judgments, stated that the public had a fundamental right to know and an information seeker does not need to have a locus or personal interest in seeking information under RTI.
Citing examples of electoral bond scheme and award of a government contract, Bhushan said unconnected persons can take recourse of the RTI in seeking information as in such cases no political party would like the scrutiny and in latter, a loser in the bidding process will have the fear of getting blacklisted.
The fear of action from the people in power prevents many connected persons from filing pleas under RTI, he added.
“There are people who put on their letterheads ‘RTI Consultant’…they call themselves ‘RTI Activists’. Is that an occupation. There may be an axe to grind behind RTI requests. We want to find a way to stop the abuse of RTI Act,” the bench was quoted as saying by PTI.
“Let somebody in the business do this. One can understand if a connected person file an application under RTI. It cannot be (the case) anybody seeking anything..,” it added.
“There has to be some kind of filter and some guidelines …,” the bench said, adding that such issues have been raised in other pleas and asked Bhushan to assist it when the cases come up for hearing.
The top court also directed the Centre and various state governments to appoint ICs in CIC and SICs within three months and also asked them put up on the website the names of members of the search committee, meant for selection and appointment of Central Information Commission’s information commissioners.
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