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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Central Information Commission to hear first case Friday

Sarbajit Roy's RTI Test Case will have its first hearing on Friday 23-December-2005

Central Information Commission to hear first case Friday
New Delhi | December 22, 2005 2:15:06 PM IST

It will be a baptism of sorts for the newly formed Central Information Commission when it hears its first case under the Right to Information Act Friday.

"It's about procedural matters of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). The appellant has said that the mechanism of providing information by the DDA is inadequate," India's first Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah told IANS.

This will be the first appeal case after the RTI Act was enacted Oct 12 and the Central Information Commission was set up.

"It will help us clarify a lot of issues. I don't know whether there was any offence against the RTI Act which the appellant (he didn't mention the name) has accused the DDA of," Habibullah, a retired officer of the Indian Administrative Service, said.

The full five-member commission that also includes O.P.Kejriwal, Padma Balasubramanian, M.M. Ansari and A.N. Tiwari will hear the case.

"This will set a precedent for hearing such cases by the commission," Habibullah pointed out.

The veteran bureaucrat also disclosed the modus operandi on appeal cases to be heard by the commission. The procedure was finalised over a week ago.

"We have assigned various ministries to different commissioners. The appeal, depending on which ministry it pertains to, will first come to one commissioner," he said.

"If the commissioner rejects the appeal, he will ask for the assistance of another commissioner. If the two differ, then they will place the matter before the multi-member commission," Habibullah explained.

"The first court is the public information officer of the ministry. And the first court of appeal lies with the ministry. The commission is the final court of appeal," he clarified.

The commission is, however, still in the process of evolving practices and procedures to deal with cases where information has been denied or adequate information has not given to a person.

Fiercely defending the independence and integrity of the commission, Habibullah, an advocate of transparent governance, said: "The commission is being set up outside the government. The commission can ask any papers from the government. I am not answerable to the government.

"The commission will decide whether the government's instructions on are in conformity with the act or not," he added.

The right of information seeks to bring greater accountability and transparency in governance of the country by providing citizens access to all government records except in cases that affect national security.

The commission, which is presently located in the guesthouse of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy for Training in Jawaharlal University's old campus, is also in search of new premises.

"We are venturing out in search of new premises from the private sector. It should happen in not more a month's time," said Habibullah.

Responding to Kejriwal's contention in the open letter he wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sometime back, he said: "He (Kejriwal) felt the process of setting up the commission was very slow. It could be because he is not from the government."

"The commission is still in the process of being set up. We have skeletal staff. I don't have space to put staff here," he admitted.



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