Indian Court Reverses Qualifications Decision

5 September 2013

The Indian Supreme Court Sept. 3 retracted most of its controversial ruling seeking to dictate the qualifications for membership on information commissions.

The court had ruled that only retired judges or those having legal training could be appointed as information commissioners at the Central Information Commission and at the state level.

Justices A.K. Patnaik and A.K. Sikri said, “As the judgment under review suffers from mistake of law, we allow the Review Petitions, recall the directions and declarations in the judgment under review.” The ruling largely reverses a judgment of Sept. 13, 2012, that put commissions into turmoil. (See previous report.)

Justice Patnaik said the right to information act did not require appointment of judicial members to the information commissions, saying “this direction was an apparent error.” The law does call for appointment of persons with wide knowledge and experience in law. “We hope that persons with wide knowledge and experience in law will be appointed in the Information Commissions at the Centre and the States,” the ruling says.

Adjudicating RTI cases “obviously is not a judicial function, but an administrative function conferred by the Act on the Information Commissions,” the court said.

The court also questioned whether retired bureaucrats, often appointed as commissioners, qualify as “persons of eminence in public life.”

The ruling in Namit Sharma vs Union of India is here.

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