The Supreme Court ruling on Thursday that only serving and retired judges of the apex court and chief justices of high courts can head information commissions startled commissions across the country,with the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) suspending some hearings set for Friday and calling an emergency meeting of Central Information Commissioners to discuss the court order.
Panic-stricken chief information commissioners of many states also called CIC Satyananda Mishra seeking his advice. They were told to consult their state governments for now,sources said.
The Supreme Courts observations have serious implications on the functioning of the Commission, Mishra said. Since the function of the commission is to examine appeals,we will have to decide how the benches should be re-organised with judicial members. To discuss all such issues we are holding an emergency meeting tomorrow.
The emergency meeting is expected to lead to the rescheduling of at least four or five hearings scheduled for each commissioner. Mishra is also expected to consult the Centre and seek legal advice after the emergency meeting.
The court order that all benches at information commissions should be two-member benches with one of them a judicial member,is expected to drastically change the way commissions are constituted. Most appeals and complaints are heard by a lone commissioner and in some cases the Chief Information Commissioner constitutes a bench of more than one commissioner. Some cases are heard by the entire commission.
There are 114 commissioners and chief information commissioners at the 27 state commissions and one central commission. Many of them are retired bureaucrats. Thursdays Supreme Court order also implies that the RTI Act would have to be amended as Supreme Court judges retire at the age of 65 and chief justices and judges of high courts retire at 62 while the maximum age for information commissioners is set at 65.
RTI experts and activists were unsure if the court order would prove useful. Retired bureaucrats were so far competing with their colleagues to be appointed CICs and ICs. Now they will face a tough challenge from retired judges as well, said Venkatesh Naik of the National Campaign for Peoples Right to Information.
Comodore (retd) Lokesh Batra,an RTI activist,hoped the court order would not lead to delays. It appears that the Supreme Court has created over 50 per cent reservations for retired judges in information commissions. I hope we are not heading for hearing after hearing and reserved verdicts like in the courts,thus prolonging decisions for years, he said.