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SC thaws CIC’s 7-month freeze, stays its earlier judicial quorum mandate in RTI body

The Supreme Court yesterday stayed its September 2012 order that made it compulsory to appoint retired judges to central and state information commissions under the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005.

A bench of the newly appointed justice AK Sikri and justice AK Patnaik temporarily stayed Patnaik’s and Justice Swatanter Kumar’s 13 September order, after a review petition by the Union government.

The review petition, according to the Times of India, stated that the court could not have directed the legislature to amend law, except where the law was silent on a particular subject.

Additional solicitor general Amarjit Singh Chandhiok and advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared for the centre, which was joined, after filing, by former information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi and social activist Aruna Roy.

The bench said:

We further direct that wherever chief information commissioner is of the opinion that intricate questions of law will have to be decided in a matter coming before the information commissioner, he will ensure that the matter is heard by a bench of which at least one member has knowledge and experience in the field of law.

[…] The competent authority will continue to fill up the vacant posts of information commissioners in accordance with the Act and in accordance with the judgment except the paragraphs we have stayed.

This is to ensure that functioning of the information commissions in accordance with the Act and the judgment is not affected during the pendency of the review petitions. We also make it clear that the chief commissioners already functioning will continue to function until the disposal of the review petitions.

Shortly after September’s ruling, the Central Information Commission had effectively stopped functioning, leading to severe criticisms from RTI and civil rights activists.

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