Former Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu on Tuesday alleged that the government was intimidating the Central Information Commission by threats of litigation, PTI reported. Acharyulu made the allegation in a letter he wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind to seek his intervention.
The Central Information Commission is an authority set up under the Right to Information Act. It deals with grievances related to RTI requests, and has jurisdiction over all central public authorities.
In his letter, Acharyulu described the global trend of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPP, which he said are frivolous lawsuits meant to “intimidate the target into ceasing public activities such as speaking out against an organisation or a person”, PTI reported.
Acharyulu said the target of the lawsuits was the Central Information Commission and the citizens. He cited two orders by the commission related to the Reserve Bank of India. The central bank has approached the Bombay High Court against the commission’s order to provide details of foreign donors to local NGOs. The RBI has also challenged a CIC order asking it to disclose the names of large wilful defaulters.
“The CIC is supposed to act as Information Tribunal to adjudicate second appeals without fear or favour,” he said. “But I would like to bring it to Your Excellency’s notice that Information Commissioners are feeling ‘legally’ intimidated from discharging their legal duties.”
The former information commissioner cited legal notices he got in connection with his order asking Gujarat University to disclose details of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s degree. The notices were sent to him in three capacities – as an individual, as the Information Commissioner, and as a person representing CIC. He asked in his letter how he would be able to defend in three capacities.
“The Union of India, in which CIC is a part, challenges order of CIC saying that educational qualifications of a public servant as his private information and its disclosure will cause unwarranted invasion of his privacy,” he said. “It appears to me as writing on wall – ‘Mr Commissioner, don’t order for disclosure of information: You will be slapped with case thrice for one order’,” he said.
Acharyulu said constitutional courts have the authority of judicial review of the CIC’s orders. But can the government make the CIC a respondent number one routinely in every such writ petition, he asked.
He accused the RBI of protecting the names of “rich men and bodies, who duped India and Indians to the tune of lakhs of crores of rupees” by challenging the commission’s order.