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BCI continues to be in ‘major breach’ of RTI obligations on several fronts: Central RTI commissioner Sridhar slams regulator in editorial

Sridhar who slammed BCI inside CIC, now slams BCI outside CIC
Sridhar who slammed BCI inside CIC, now slams BCI outside CIC

The Bar Council of India (BCI) has still not complied with its statutory duty under the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005, more than six weeks after the Central Information Commission (CIC) threatened to impose maximum penalty on BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra, if the BCI continues in its non-compliance of the law.

Under the RTI Act all public authorities must compulsorily disclose their entire affairs on their website. In the case of the BCI this disclosure would include minutes of all its meetings, reports of all its committees including law school inspection committees and disciplinary committees and its financial accounts among other things. The BCI’s website currently only carries a handful of circulars and notifications.

On 7 April, disposing of the second appeal of advocate-on-record KR Chitra, Central Information Commissioner Prof Madabhushi Sridhar ordered Mishra to submit by 9 May before the CIC a definite timeline within which the BCI would publish all its affairs on its website.

The CIC’s website does not carry any further details of the case and whether Mishra responded to the CIC with a timeline by 9 May.

Sridhar today told Legally India today that as far as the CIC was concerned, the matter stands disposed of. He declined to comment on whether the BCI had submitted the timeline of compliance, asked for by the CIC, on 9 May.

Sridhar added that it was for a complainant to file with the CIC if the BCI had not followed the CIC’s 7 April order, in order for the CIC to  take any further action against the BCI now.

We have reached out to Mishra for comment.

Sridhar yesterday wrote in an editorial in The Hans India, which was republished by Live Law, that not complying with the RTI law “needs to be seen as a major breach of RTI Act by the prestigious statutory body, the BCI”.

He also highlighted earlier CIC decisions that state bar councils and the BCI must proactively publish their decisions of its disciplinary proceeding against advocates on its websites – something which does not appear to have been done either.

Full disclosure: It took Legally India six months to obtain 1,600 pages of BCI meeting minutes from the BCI under RTI one year ago. We will be sharing the full documents that we obtained shortly.

Sridhar’s full column, republished with permission and minor edits, emphasis added:

Bar Council of India (BCI) is a statutory body of advocates meant for protecting the values and ethical standards of the legal profession.  This profession had a lion’s share in the struggle for independence of India, with Gandhi, Nehru and several other prominent leaders of national movement being lawyers.

The standards of profession and legal education are the responsibilities of the BCI. It has to take care of law colleges to produce worthy lawyers, and see those lawyers conduct themselves worthy of their profession.

Being a public authority, the Bar Council of India has to comply with mandatory RTI requirements.   Central Information Commission (CIC) had to order that Bar Council of India should comply with the mandatory RTI requirements.  

In a second appeal, the CIC has directed the BCI Chairman to inform when they would be complying with 4(1) (b) on their official website.

The Section 4 (1) (b) of the RTI Act states that every public authority shall maintain 17 specified categories of updated information about the working of the organisation which should be posted on its website as well as in public domain through other methods.

Within 120 days from the commencement of the Act, every public authority is required to comply with this mandatory requirement.

Inspection and meeting minutes

An advocate, K R Chitra, had sought information related to inspection and meetings conducted by the BCI.

The BCI has another statutory duty to furnish annual report in compliance with 4(1) (b), as required under Section 19(8) (a) (vi).  The CIC also directed the PIO to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed for this breach of RTI.

The Commission required the Chairman, BCI, to file an affidavit, explaining when they would be complying with 4(1) (b) on their official website. The Commission said that all the responses should reach the commission by May 9, 2016, else it will be compelled to initiate appropriate action against the Chairman, BCI, for noncompliance of the Section 4(1) (b).

The appellant by her RTI application sought information relating to inspection of all law colleges, universities/institutions and other meetings by the members of the Bar Council of India during the period from 01.04.2010 till date.

She wanted the names of members of Bar Council of India, names of all law colleges/universities and institutions inspected by each member, date/month/years of inspection etc. The PIO replied on 12.10.2015 providing para­wise reply. First appeal was dismissed on 29.11.2015 as the PIO has provided information.

The PIO of Bar Council stated that they offered NIC to prepare a comprehensive website to post information as required under section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act including the information about inspection of law colleges as sought by the appellant. The appellant is asking complete details on 7 points, which involves huge information.

For example, the first question, seeking inspection reports on all colleges, universities, etc. from 2010 till date along with several details. The PIO submitted that there are thousands of colleges and other institutions, and inspection details about them are impossible to be given unless the appellant focuses on a specific institution or period.

She refused to reduce the ambit of questions and insisted on inspection or information in the form of CD.

The Commission holds that the appellant is adamant on seeking unnecessary details.  However, it is noticed that the Bar Council of India has not satisfactorily complied with the Section 4(1)(b) requirements. It is a major breach of RTI by prestigious organisation called the BCI.

It is also surprising that they are repeatedly taking a plea that, though they have such information in computer, they have not posted it on website. They have already exhausted 10 years of time in fulfilling this obligation.

The Commission directed the public authority to furnish annual report in compliance with 4(1)(b), as required under section 19(8)(a)(vi) and directed the PIO to show cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed for this breach of RTI.

The Commission also directed the Chairman, BCI to file an affidavit explaining when they would be complying with 4(1)(b) on their official website, all the responses should reach the commission by May 9, 2016. If not, Commission will be compelled to initiate appropriate action against the Chairman, BCI for non- compliance of section 4(1)(b), which was sought under section 3 by the appellant in this case as that amounts to denial of information attracting the penalties. (based on decision in CIC/SA/A/2016/000023 7.4.2016 KR Chitra v BCI)

No disclosure of bar councils of complaints

In an earlier order, the Central Information Commissioner has ruled that Bar Councils and Associations, being established under the Advocates Act, come under the purview of the Right to Information Act. The CIC was hearing an appeal filed by one Harinder Dhingra, who had sought information regarding the number of complaints filed against advocates under Section 35 of the Advocates Act in the past 10 years.

He also sought to know the number of cases disposed of, number of advocates alleged to have committed misconduct or unethical conduct as per provisions of Advocates Act, etc. This information was sought with regard to the lawyers enrolled with the Bar Associations located at Rewari, Faridabad, Punchkula and Gurgaon, for at least 3 years.

He further demanded to know the number of disciplinary cases against advocates, which were sent to the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana, at Chandigarh, by the Bar Associations located at Rewari, Faridabad, Punchkula and Gurgaon.

The CIC observed that the Bar Council is a statutory body constituted under Advocates Act, 1961, “to protect ethical standards of advocates and admonish the members for misconduct.” It then ruled that the information sought from the Bar Council cannot be denied to the appellant as it does not attract any exemption under the RTI Act. The CIC further observed that even though Bar Associations are different from Bar Councils, they are also constituted under a law made by the Parliament, i.e. the Advocates Act, 1961.

“They too have a duty to inform the people about their activities,” it ruled. Finally, the CIC issued the following directions:

“The Commission directs the Bar Council of Punjab & Haryana, Chandigarh, to furnish the information sought.

The action taken under Section 35 by the Bar Council should be published under Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act on their own without anybody need to see it. The Complaints also might have emanated from district bar associations and reach the Bar Council of the State.

Though Bar Associations are different from Bar Councils, they are also constituted under a law made by Parliament, i.e., the Advocates Act, 1961. They too have a duty to inform the people about their activities.”

The Commission directed the Presidents of the Bar Associations at Rewari, Faridabad, Punchkula and Gurgaon, to provide copies of complaints against, if any, forwarded by them to the Bar Council of Punjab & Haryana at Chandigarh. 

It also directed the FAA/Bar Council of Punjab & Haryana, Chandigarh to show cause why disciplinary action cannot be recommended against him for not taking up the first appeal of the appellant.

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