CJI's Office Is Under RTI Purview : CIC

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New Delhi, Nov 26 (UNI) The office of the Chief Justice of India-- insofar as he presides over the Supreme Court-- does come under the purview of the Right to Information Act, 2005, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah asserted today.

The assertion came in the course of a talk he gave this morning on 'Working of Right to Information Act Issues and Challenges' at Observer Research Foundation.

The Central Information Commission would hear soon some petitions pending on the issue, a Foundation statement quoted Habibullah as saying.

A law officer for the Supreme Court has argued before a Commission bench that judges' declaration of assets was an in-house voluntary agreement and not accessible to public under the RTI Act, an issue on which the Commission has reserved its decision.

Habibullah's remarks may be viewed in the context of a controversy sparked by CJI K G Balakrishnan's assertion seven months ago-- April 2008-- that his office does not come under the RTI Act.

A Parliamentary Committee on Ministry of Law and Justice held a few days later that all constitutional authorities, including the CJI, came under the ambit of the RTI Act.

A few weeks later, the CIC said it would take up the issue in a full bench hearing soon.

Habibullah's talk also touched on other aspects of the RTI, the Foundation statement said.

He told audience he had discussions with the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariat to improve the flow of information on the functioning of Members of Parliament, the statement said.

Habibullah said the RTI purview went beyond Central and State governments, encompassing any body which receives government funding.

This, he said, included such institutions as Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Distcoms, Stock Exchanges and aided schools.

He stressed the need to modify government officials' training which has conditioned them not to share government information with the public even though their salaries are paid by taxpayers.

He dubbed the Official Secrets Act 1923 ''complete anachronism,'' saying the Commission has suggested its repeal, without headway so far.

He acknowledged that even some principal information officers were not aware of their roles, one of the issues that need to be tackled.

But he said he has no doubt that the RTI Act has become a powerful tool, even for the weak and illiterate people, to get information otherwise out of reach.

''This is the Act people can use and will use,'' he said, adding that slum dwellers and women have been its largest users.

He listed its utility in enforcement of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

The CIC stressed the urgency of bringing uniformity and homogeneity in the fees under the RTI Act to make it easier and affordable to all citizens and empowering the Commission to take contempt action in case of poor compliance.

He said the applicants' fear of being victimised was a real problem which ought to be addressed.

UNI MJ SB HS1905

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