New Delhi, Mar 17: The CIC has held that political parties who were brought under the RTI Act were not implementing its order, calling it an "unusual case of wilful non-compliance" but said it cannot penalise them, a move that could have far-reaching effect on its writ.
The Central Information Commission(CIC) said it cannot impose any penalty on the six parties as public authorities since they have not appointed any Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) against whom such action can be taken by it.
The CIC in its order yesterday also said that further action could be taken by the Union Government or by courts. A Bench of three former bureaucrats--Vijai Sharma, Manjula Parashar and Sharat Sabharwal--gave its order on a complaint by RTI activist Subhash Agrawal and the Association of Democratic Reforms about non-compliance of BJP, Congress, NCP, BSP, CPI-M and CPI with the RTI act.
All the three have applied for the position of Chief Information Commissioner, a key post which has to be decided by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and a Cabinet Minister.
"It is clear that the respondents have not implemented, as public authorities, the directions contained in the Commission's order. In this light, the provisions for penalty and compensation were examined.
"It is felt that though the respondents have not taken any step towards compliance, the legal position is such that in this case imposition of penalty and award of compensation cannot be considered," the Bench said in its order.
RTI activists feared that CIC may not be able to enforce its directions to bodies declared by it as public authorities since they may choose to ignore them citing the new ruling. The Bench said the penalty provisions have been made infructuous as there are no CPIOs.
"Penalty can be imposed only on the CPIO, and on no one else, not even the first appellate authority in the event of a default. The prayer made in this case for penalising the non-complying public authorities cannot be considered".
Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI(M), BSP, CPI were declared to be under the ambit of the RTI Act by the CIC in its landmark verdict on June 3, 2013 as they were indirectly funded by the government through cheap land and given other facilities.
None of the political parties followed the directives of the Commission. Neither did they challenge in the court nor the law was amended to counter the Commission's order. Agrawal expressed surprise that the CIC rather than summoning the representatives of the parties is expressing helplessness and asking DoPT to fill the legal gaps.
"Even Presidents/Secretaries of political parties could be taken as deemed CPIOs in absence of appointment of CPIOs by defaulting political parties," Agrawal said.
First Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said CIC should have approached a court under the CrPC to file a complaint that its orders are not being implemented on which the court can issue suitable orders.
In its order, the Bench said, "The Commission is not geared to handling situations such as the present instance where the respondents have disengaged from the process. The Commission, having declared the respondents to be public authorities, is unable to get them to function so."
"This unusual case of wilful non-compliance highlights the need to identify the legal gaps and lacunae in the implementation mechanism. An obvious conclusion is that in cases such as this, the Commission is bereft of the tools to get its orders complied with," it said.