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Questions for RTI boss

Information commissioner Sridhar Acharyalu has questioned the way chief information commissioner R.K. Mathur dissolved and reconstituted a bench that was hearing complaints against some political parties.

TT Bureau   |   Published 26.03.18, 12:00 AM

New Delhi: Information commissioner Sridhar Acharyalu has questioned the way chief information commissioner R.K. Mathur dissolved and reconstituted a bench that was hearing complaints against some political parties.

Acharyalu said the move raised "serious questions" about the "independence of individual information commissioner(s), who can be part of a bench for some time and not for some other, against his will, without his consent and without a reason or without giving a reason".

"Can a larger bench be constituted without reference from the existing bench?" Acharyalu asked in a scathing February 22 letter addressed to Mathur.

The letter, accessed by PTI and circulated among all information commissioners at a recent meeting, followed another on February 7.

That letter too had raised questions about the way Mathur had dissolved the bench of Acharyulu, Sudhir Bhargava and Bimal Julka that was hearing complaints against six parties - the BJP, Congress, BSP, NCP, CPI and the CPM.

The bench had heard the case for six months in 2016 but, in December that year, Julka had recused himself citing pending work. Mathur had constituted a new bench in August 2017 but it didn't include any members of the previous bench.

Earlier, in January 2017, Acharyulu had been divested of hearing RTI matters related to the human resource development ministry.

That was days after his order - calling for the disclosure of Delhi University's academic records for the year in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had graduated - had become public.

Acharyulu had been assigned matters related to the ministry just 10 days before that.

"Distribution and redistribution of subjects cannot be left to any single individual authority but to be decided by (the) Commission as such in a reasonable manner," Acharyulu said.

There should be a system and guidelines, he added, so that it becomes impossible to bring "external pressures" to change the subject of a particular commission or remove one commissioner from a bench.

No hearing in the matter related to the parties has taken place since a new four-member bench was constituted in August 2017.

The four-member bench has since been reconstituted after one of the members retired in January this year.

Acharyalu said his letters addressed to Mathur should be posted on the commission's website.

"As this issue is of high public interest, and because the people have right to information from political parties, these aspects must be deliberated and placed in (the) public domain," he said. PTI



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