CJI remarks may dampen RTI journey: Shailesh

New Delhi: Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi has written to Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia about his recent remarks that irrelevant RTI queries hampered the work of judiciary, saying this may "dampen the RTI journey" of the country.

In his letter to the CJI, Gandhi said, "I would like to submit to you that transparency in governance is a cherished goal and all functionaries and instrumentalities of the Government should be striving for greater transparency and accountability. Your comments – correctly reported – may dampen the RTI journey of India."

The Chief Justice had said that while the RTI law was "good", certain information being sought such as about invitations, attending lunches and the like went beyond the limit. "There should be some limit to all these," the CJI had observed.

Contesting this, Gandhi said,"ideally there should be very few limits to fundamental rights of the citizens. These limits can only be set by Parliament which has already done this by codifying Right to Information in the RTI Act."

Gandhi underlined that transparency law has started making small difference in the "power equation between citizens and government," given hope of bringing correction, making citizens effective monitors of government, and helping to unravel corruption. "Sir, the Nation has very great respect for you, and your remarks could have significant negative impact on RTI. Various functionaries would quote your remarks to justify putting fetters on the citizen`s right," he wrote.

Conceeding that some people are using the RTI Act for trivial purposes, Gandhi said, "this would apply to all rights and infact to all actions of human beings in the society." "It is possible to show cases where RTI may have been used in a trivial manner. Similarly, it would be possible to show that various progressive laws – such as dowry Act. Atrocities Act etc. – may have been used in trivial manner or to harass innocent people. But all of us recognise the beneficial results of these, and do not talk of criticising them," Gandhi said.

Gandhi said most public authorities – including information commissions and courts have not fulfilled the requirements of section four of the RTI Act, mandating suo-moto disclosure of information, consequent to which they are then complaining about increasing RTI requests. "The press reports claims that the time of judges is being occupied. This need not happpen at all. In the information commission, PIOs send the information based on the records to various applicants without reference to the Commissioner. Ultimately the PIO`s job is only to provide information that are available on records," he said.

The letter was in response to observations made by Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia during the hearing by a Constitution bench headed by him on the issue of laying down guidelines for media on covering court proceedings. "In RTI (Right to Information) matter, I have given all disclosures except in certain areas. Still questions are coming," he said and mentioned some of them, including invitations for lunch and his association with eminent jurist Nani Palkhivala.

"Different types of information are being sought. We have to save this institution of judiciary also and not only the press. We cannot accept all these. It is going beyond a limit. There should be some limit to all these," the CJI observed.