Supreme Court order leads to RTI logjam across states NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court's order mandating the appointment of a judicial member and an expert to hear RTI-related cases, has crippled functioning of one-fourth of the country's 28 information commissions. Work in the information commissions in Maharashtra, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Jharkhand has come to a halt, frustrating thousands who have filed RTI pleas to fight against injustices by authorities and for delivery of basic services. These information commissions ceased working on the advice of advocate generals and legal departments of respective states. A survey conducted by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) showed that all such commissions have stopped hearing fresh applications for disclosures under RTI. Appeals against earlier orders are also not being heard on RTI. The situation may worsen in coming days because of indications that other information commissions may chose to be "risk-averse" for the fear of running foul of the SC order. The Central Information Commission (CIC) has continued work after seeking the Centre's advice. Commissions in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh have also continued hearing RTI cases. In fact, the Advocate General in Kerala has asked the state information commission to continue working. However, RTI activists feel that the crisis may deepen. A pointer to that has come from Jharkhand, where the state information commission has halted work despite the availability of a member with judicial training. The Jharkhand commission is headed by Justice (retired) DK Sinha. While the concern in many other commissions seems to be about the non-availability of a member with judicial training, in Jharkhand the worry seems to be about non-availability of non-judicial experts. No hearings are being held in Goa as members to the information commission have not been appointed. Case for review plea The SC in a recent order had held that the information commissions are quasi-judicial bodies and, therefore, ought to have a judge or a trained expert to hear cases. Since there are few judges in information commissions, the order has raised doubts about the validity of the decisions taken by the commissions. The paralysis in information commissions is likely to spur the government to expedite the review petition it plans to file. Sources say that the government plans to argue that familiarity with administrative matters should be the only criteria for appointment to the commissions. However, until such time the court disposes of the review petition, confusion over the status of existing commissions and their orders will continue. Reacting to the situation, National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) member Shekhar Singh said that the Centre should ask for a clarification from the court instead of allowing status quo to continue. SC lawyer Prashant Bhushan termed the order incorrect saying it "cripples the information commissions" because there were not enough judges to fill vacancies. "In my view it is not essential to stop hearing cases. The government should seek a clarification at least or a review of the order." The J&K information commission is not affected by this ruling as it is constituted under a separate RTI law enacted by the J&K Legislature. The apex court's judgment is only restricted to the implementation of the RTI Act passed by Parliament. According to CHRI, the patchy interpretation of the order has put India's reputation as a model for popular RTI at stake. Supreme Court order leads to RTI logjam across states - The Times of India ******************* RTI is a grat measure done by the UPA. However, it is besot with hurdles one after another and even with the Govt taking away some issues and putting them beyond the realm of the RTI. And now comes the SC order! Sadly, no one sees through the issue before enacting Bills resulting in knee jerk tweaks and hurdles. These lack of vision is what makes one lose confidence if the Govt is serious in governance or is merely playing to the galleries!