Indian Court Stays Major Parts of Controversial Ruling

17 April 2013

The Indian Supreme Court on April 16 stayed a controversial decision ordering that retired or sitting judges be appointed to lead the Central Information Commission and state commissions.

The order by Justices A. K. Patnaik and Arjan K. Sikri also stayed a directive from the Sept. 13, 2012, decision that would have required commissions to appoint two commissioners to handle matters, with one being a former judge.

The decision was challenged by the government and RTI advocates. It has created major confusion at commissions, curtailed appointment of new commissioners, and slowed work on appeals. (See previous reports.)

The latest order does not entirely negate the court’s inclination toward bringing more legal knowledge to RTI commissions. Patnaik and Sikri 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.”

Addressing the uncertainty created by the seven-month-old decision, the judges urged that vacant posts be filled and that commissioners should continue to do their work while the court’s review of the decision continues.

“We make it clear that subject to orders that may be finally passed after hearing the review petitioners, 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.”

The bench further said, “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.”

For articles on the decision, see The Times of India, The Deccan Herald and The Hindu.

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