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RTI faces challenges in courts

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I reproduce below, an article that appeared in the Chennai Edition of New Indian Express(13.12.2006):


"After a hectic first year when it was seen in its 'evolutionary' stages, the RTI Act is now entering a phase where it is increasingly coming into conflict with the public authorities in court.


Several landmark orders passed by the CIC have been challenged via the writ petition route by authorities from whom the information was sought. And, in most of these cases, stay orders have been obtained.


Among the first to have challenged the CIC's orders, ironically, was the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) which had drafted the RTI Act itself. The DoPT challenged the CIC's decision to allow its members "in camera" access to the correspondence between former President K R Narayanan and the Government on the Gujarat riots. The DoPT obtained a stay from the Delhi High Court.


Not Just this:


* The CIC ruled that Delhi Electric Commission is a public authority. This was challenged in the Delhi High Court and a stay order was granted.


* The CIC ruled that UPSC should disclose cut-offs in the civil service prelims. Stayed by Delhi HC.


* Association of Indian Universities was declared a public authority by the CIC, but a stay order was granted by the Delhi HC.


* CIC fined Benares Hindu University for delay in giving information to an applicant. Stay from Allahabad High Court.


Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah described the DoPT's intervention as "premature" and said the panel had approached former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee to defend its decision.


"We had asked for the correspondence to be shown to us in confidence in sealed cover and were surprised that the DoPT found objection to this," Habibullah told Express.


Asked about this trend, Habibullah said, " As we examine the inner reaches or the sanctum santorum of Government functioning, I anticipate there will be even larger number of decisions challenged in courts.


Authorities who have argued against grant of information or against them being declared public authorities, may want to take the last recourse and take the writ petition route. We are gearing up for increased judicial review."


So a senior legal consultant will soon join the CIC, which is also setting up a legal cell and reference section. There is a flip side, admits Habibullah, of this "judicialisation" of the RTI: Stage is set for a new branch of case law. " The implications of our decision carry heavy judicial ramifications as we are gearing up for increased judicial review".

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