The Right To Information Act (RTI) is being abused the Supreme Court said this morning, adding that guidelines needed to be framed to stop that abuse. Warning of a "fear paralysis" in the government because of alleged misuse and overuse of the transparency law, the top court said that while it was not against the Act it could not become a tool with which to blackmail the government. The Supreme Court also directed the centre to complete appointments to the Central Information Commission in three months, saying it would haul up the government if it failed to do so.
The top court will hear this case next in February.
"We are not against the RTI Act but we think it is necessary to evolve some kind of guidelines to regulate this," Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said, adding, "People who are in no way connected to an issue file RTI. It sometimes amount to criminal intimidation, which is a nice word for blackmail...there is need for guidelines. It cannot be an unrivalled right".
The court was taking notice of a submission by lawyer Prashant Bhushan that despite the court's judgement on February 15, centre and state governments had not yet appointed Information Commissioners in relevant bodies.
In his response on the issue Mr Bhushan said a journalist in Uttar Pradesh had filed a RTI on a corruption case but had faced police allegations saying he was an extortionist. The court said it would not block genuine requests and that it was only asking for a "filter".
"Everyday people come to you for information. Person who is asking info on a contract must have something to do with the contract. We are asking you to stop methods of abusing RTI," the court explained.
More than 12 lakh RTI applications were made in 2017/18, according to news agency PTI; 96 per cent of these were answered.
The bench, which also comprised Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant, said: "We direct the Centre and the state to conclude the appointment from today". It also directed authorities to list, on the government website, names of members of search committees for relevant appointments within two weeks.
In July the centre controversially amended the RTI Act, ending parity enjoyed by the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners with Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners in terms and conditions of service and tenure.
The opposition - which had dubbed the bill "RTI Elimination Bill" - said it was a coercive measure that would interfere with Information Commissions's freedom to make independent decisions.
With input from PTI