The Smarter way to get your business news - Subscribe to BloombergQuint on WhatsApp
Former Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu on Tuesday alleged that the Central Information Commission was facing threats of litigations filed against it by the government. Acharyulu also sought President Ram Nath Kovind's intervention.
In a letter to the President, he highlighted a global trend of Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation and said it is a "type of frivolous lawsuit, not undertaken to be won, necessarily, but to intimidate the target into ceasing public activities such as speaking out against an organisation or a person.”
He cited two orders related to the Reserve Bank of India to drive home his point.
"Here the target is the CIC and the citizens. Unfortunately, the government bodies are slapping writ petitions right, left and centre against the Respondent No. 1 - CIC and Respondent No. 2 - the Citizen who were asking for information as empowered by RTI Act," he said.
Acharyulu, who had delivered some path-breaking orders including directions to the RBI to comply with the Supreme Court orders in disclosing wilful defaulter, approached Kovind saying the RBI had filed a petition in the Bombay High Court making the CIC as a party in two separate cases.
He had also issued a show cause notice to the RBI Governor Urijit Patel for defiance of Supreme Court, upholding the orders of former Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi asking it to disclose wilful defaulters.
The RBI has also challenged another order of the CIC on July 4 in which Central Public Information Officer of the central bank was issued show cause notice by Information Commissioner Sudhir Bhargava for not disclosing details of foreign donors of local NGOs.
Government offices want their "rights" to be protected from the Information Commission created by the union of India as per the will of the Parliament, Acharyulu said.
"CIC is supposed to act as Information Tribunal to adjudicate second appeals without fear or favour. But I would like to bring it to your Excellency's notice that Information Commissioners are feeling legally intimidated from discharging their legal duties," he said.
Citing example of notices being sent to him in three capacities - as individual, as Information Commissioner, and as a person representing the Central Information Commission - by the Gujarat High Court on a plea of Gujarat University against his order of disclosing degree details of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said as he is respondent number one, two and three, how does he defend in three capacities.
"The union of India, in which CIC is a part, challenges order of CIC saying that educational qualifications of a public servant as his private information and its disclosure will cause unwarranted invasion of his privacy," he said.
Is it not legal intimidation against functioning of a statutory body created to enforce constitutional right to information, which is proclaimed to be part of fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, he questioned.
"My only question is, when I, as CIC, was part of union of India, and when union of India itself fights my order, who will defend me," he asked. The Additional Solicitor General travelled all the way from Delhi to Ahmedabad, not to defend him, but to contest his order, he said.
"It appears to me as writing on wall - Mr Commissioner, don't order for disclosure of information: You will be slapped with case thrice for one order," he said.
Acharyulu said there are "around 1,700 writ petitions filed, most of them, surprisingly and sadly by government and its institutions like the RBI etc., impleading the Information Commission or Commissioner for acting under RTI Act.”
"I agree that the constitutional courts do have authority of judicial review of the orders of the CIC. But can the government routinely make the CIC a respondent number one in every such writ petition," he said.
Taking a dig at the RBI, he said he had ordered disclosure of names of wilful defaulters as per the directions of the Supreme Court and in a separate case another commissioner had ordered disclosure of the list of foreign donors of local NGOs.
He said the RBI filed a suit against him and the commission making them respondent number 1 to protect the names of those "rich men and bodies, who duped India and Indians to the tune of lakh of crores of rupees" and giving details of foreign donors.
"For the RBI these are issues of national security," he said. He said there are several judgments of the Supreme Court that legality of a tribunal's order can be challenged but that tribunal should not be made a party.
A former professor of law, Acharyulu said he had never imagined a situation where a district court is made a party in an appeal before a high court and a high court or its judge is made respondent in an appeal before Supreme Court.
"I do not know why this constitutional point is being missed by the luminaries in government of India while making CIC a respondent in these slapped writs," he said.
. Read more on Law & Policy by BloombergQuint.