The Delhi High Court has struck down an order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) which declared ministers as “public authorities” under the transparency law.Justice Vibhu Bhakru set aside the order passed on March 12 last year, which had declared that “ministers in the Union Government and all State Governments as public authorities” fall under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.”There was no occasion for the CIC to enter upon the question as to whether a Minister is a public authority under Section 2(h) of the Act. Further, directions issued by the CIC are also wholly outside the scope of the matter before CIC. In view of the above, the order dated March 12, 2016 cannot be sustained and is, accordingly, set aside,” the court said.The court order comes after the Centre had appealed against the CIC order.The CIC directive that ministers were answerable as per the RTI Act would mean that people can directly send questions to a minister by filing an RTI application, which will be answered by a public information officer in his office.The case emanates from the application filed by a man on November 20, 2014 before the Additional Private Secretary, Minister of Law and Justice, seeking to know the time period of when a minister or minister of state, meet the general public.As the information sought was not received, he filed an appeal early in January 2015, to which the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) sent a response on January 16, 2015, informing him that “no specific time has been given for the meeting of general public with the minister. However, as and when requests are received, appointments are given subject to the convenience of the Minister.”Thereafter, the RTI applicant filed a second appeal with principal grievance that he had not received the information sought for within the specified time and therefore, requested that certain action be taken against the concerned CPIO.Presented with this appeal, the CIC went on to frame the questions whether the minister or his office was a “public authority” under the RTI Act, whether a citizen has right to information sought and whether the minister has corresponding obligation to give it.The CIC issued directions to the government to provide necessary support to each minister including designating some officers or appointing some as Public Information Officers (PIO) and First Appellate Authorities. It had also directed that ministers be given an official website for suo motu disclosure of information with periodical updating as prescribed under Section 4 of the RTI Act.While hearing the appeal filed by the Centre, Justice Bhakru observed, “This court finds it difficult to understand as to how the questions as framed by the CIC arise in the appeal.”QUESTION OF RTIThe CIC questioned whether a minister or his office is a “public authority” under the RTI Act. They also asked if a citizen has right to the information sought and whether the minister has corresponding obligation to answer it.
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Delhi High Court sets aside CIC order holding ministers answerable under RTI