Govt has been defanging RTI Act. Now, Supreme Court raises concern over its 'misuse'
Saying that the Right to Information cannot be “an unrivalled right", CJI SA Bobde suggested that there ought to be some norms or guidelines restricting information seekers.
Raising concerns over the "abuse" of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Supreme Court on Monday observed that people file RTIs even when they don't have anything to do with the cases; "which sometimes amount to blackmail," said Chief Justice Bobde.
“People who are in no way connected to an issue file RTI. It sometimes amounts to criminal intimidation, which is a nice word for blackmail,” observed a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde.
This comes at a time when the central government has been accused of defanging the RTI Act by giving itself the power over deciding the tenure, salary and dismissal of information commissioners.
This, when looked at along with the recent remarks from the apex court, can be seen as a ‘double assault’ at the landmark transparency law, passed by the UPA government in 2005.
Saying that the Right to Information cannot be “an unrivalled right", CJI Bobde suggested that there ought to be some norms or guidelines restricting information seekers.
The bench was hearing a plea by RTI activist Anjali Bharadwaj seeking direction to the government to implement the court’s direction earlier this year to appoint information commissioners (ICs) in vacant seats, without further delay.
The bench allowed the request and asked the Centre and states to fill the vacancies within three months. It also asked the Centre to upload on the official website names of members of the Search Committee for selection of ICs of the Central Information Commission within two weeks.
Refuting what the CJI’s observations regarding “misuse”, Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for the petitioner, said “there should be no locus standi in RTI” as it would discourage public-spirited persons from seeking information.
Responding to this, the CJI said that there were some concerns about the working of the act. He said that the unbridled use of the act has created a sense of "paralysis and fear" in government.
The bench comprising of Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant along with the CJI also expressed astonishment over how RTI activism has become a full-time profession. It also reiterated its point by saying that "a public-spirited person should be someone who has something to do with the issue".
According to the annual report of the Central Information Commission (CIC), there were 13.70 lakh RTI applications made in the reporting year 2018-19. Out of which, the Central Public Authorities rejected 4.70% (64,344) of the applications.
In the past, the Supreme Court had warned against a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of the time answering RTI queries.
These recent observations can be seen in opposition to the core of the RTI Act, under which any Indian citizen is entitled to file an RTI application to "secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority,..."