Only serving or retired judge to be CIC, says SC

PIL had questioned members qualification

The Supreme Court on Thursday directed that only a serving or retired chief justice of a high court or a judge of the apex court would be appointed as the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) to head the panel at the Centre and state level to decide complaints as well as appeal under the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005.

A bench of Justice A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar held that the Central and State Information Commission are judicial bodies and should function in a bench consisting of two members with one of them necessarily being a person with judicial background to be called as judicial member.

Passing a slew of directions, the court interpreted the provisions of the Act.
“We are of the considered view that the competent authority should prefer a person who is or has been a judge of a high court for appointment as Information Commissioners.

Chief Information Commissioner at the Centre or State level shall only be a person who is or has been a chief justice of a high court or a judge of the Supreme Court of India,” the bench said.

The apex court, while deciding a PIL challenging Sections 12 and 15 of the RTI Act, 2005 relating qualification for members to the commissions, directed the government to amend the law to ensure inclusion of person with judicial background as its member for “effective and better” administration of justice.

“The various provisions of this Act are clear indicators to the unquestionable proposition of law that the Commission is a judicial tribunal and not a ministerial tribunal. It is an important cog and is part of court attached system of administration of justice unlike a ministerial tribunal which is more influenced and controlled and performs functions akin to machinery of administration,” the bench said.

The court, which refused to term those provisions of the RTI Act as unconstitutional, laid down the qualification of a judicial member saying that he or she should be a person having at 20 years of practice of law with experience in social work.

The appointment of judicial member would be undertaken in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and Chief Justice of respective high courts in case of states, the court said.

The Central and State Information Commissions have dual jurisdiction –appellate as well as supervisory and investigative authority – as imposed penalty and recommended disciplinary action against those public information officers who failed to respond to the queries made under the Act.

“The commission is not administrative simpliciter but is quasijudicial in nature. It exercises powers and functions which are adjudicatory in character and legal in nature,” the court said.

Directing for bringing amendment into the transparency law, the bench said, “The terminology used by the legislature, such as ‘mass-media’ or ‘administration and governance’, are terms of uncertain tenor and amplitude. It is somewhat difficult to state with exactitude as to what class of persons would be eligible under these categories.”

The Sub-Section (5) of Section 12 of the Act dealing with the eligibility criteria for appointment to the post of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners stated that the persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance would be appointed to the posts.

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