Thursday, June 07, 2018

Why Information Commissioners should not have status of a Supreme Court judge : by Vivek Agnihotri

Yahoo India News: National: Thursday, June 07, 2018.
Unless you are a serious researcher, whistle-blower, a curious citizen or have nothing else to do, you will never ever care about the Right To Information Act. And even if you do, you may never care about who is the Information Commissioner is, what his salary or status are, and where he stands in hierarchy.
Even I didn’t.
Until I started researching for a film on Lal Bahadur Shastri’s mysterious death. Whether I found any useful information or not, what kind of difficulties I had to face to even file an RTI application is a subject of another discussion, but what I came to know about the status of Central Information Commissioners and Chief Information Commissioners baffled me.
Not many people know that currently the RTI Act confers the status of Supreme Court judges on Central Information Commissioners/Chief Information Commissioner of States. I always thought that only the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, central Cabinet Ministers, Speakers of the House and Supreme Court judges have extraordinary status for the responsibility they are given to serve and protect the State of India.
For a CIC to have the same status as Supreme Court Judges is anomalous on several counts.
The Supreme Court is not just the apex court of the country, it is also an integral pillar of our democracy alongside the Parliament (Legislature) & Union Government (Executive). The Supreme Court is also the custodian of the Constitution. Every judgement passed by the Supreme Court judges is final, irreversible and becomes the law of the land.
The destiny of our country and its citizens can change with one judgement of a Supreme Court judge. Even the orders of the executive can be challenged, reversed or stopped by an SC judge. Not in the case of a CIC.
To understand why CICs cannot have the same status as a SC judge, let’s look at the Information Commission. First, the Information Commission is not a constitutional body.  Unlike the Supreme Court, the Information Commission came into existence by an Act of Parliament. In fact, unlike the constitutional body empowered by Article 324 of the Constitution, the CIC is only a statutory body handling requests and appeals of citizens for information under the control of public authorities. It is a statutory commission like NCDRC (National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission), CERC, Competition Commission of India, et cetera.
In none of these are their commissioners or members either equated with or given the status of a SC judge. CIC/ICs have a limited mandate, given to them by Parliament, of just protecting a statutory right and that is the Right to Information.
Unlike SC judges, the orders of the Information Commissioners are not final and can be challenged and reversed in high courts. Thus, in the hierarchy of institutions and their power, Information Commissions have to be placed below the High Court. But, strangely, the Chief Information Commissioner of State Information Commission is given  a status superior to that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. This is quiet bizarre as the orders of the State Information Commissions can be challenged before the High Court.
Further, every state has an Information Commission, and equating Chief Information Commissioners of all states with Supreme Court Judges is not just improper and inappropriate, it’s absolutely illogical.
Also, in most cases the state information commissioner is an ex-bureaucrat retiring as an additional secretary not even having reached the level of a secretary while in service but on appointment as state information commissioner, he suddenly comes to the same level as of a Supreme Court judge. This is beyond any rationality or professional fairness.
Then why are CIC equated to SC judges and given the same status and perks as them?
Anyone with a little knowledge and understanding of our Constitution and the democratic set-up can tell that there is something wrong and unconstitutional here. What surprises me is that no one has raised this issue. In a country, where legal activism is faster than the bullet train, how come this anomaly went undetected?
When I further researched and connected the dots, it didn’t surprise me at all. This is not an exception. It’s a political game played by political parties to contrive and manoeuvre the system for their vested interests and to ensure their hold over the system.