Ministers in the Union Government and all State Governments as “public authorities” under RTI Act

Central Information Commission: While observing that the Ministers in the Union Government and all State Governments are “public authorities” under Section 2(h) of RTI Act, CIC held that the Ministers have a statutory obligation to inform the people as mandated by the Right to Information Act, 2005. CIC also recommended the Centre and States to provide necessary support to each minister, including appointment of Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities. CIC further added that the ministers also shall be given an official website for suo moto disclosure of the information. This order of the Commission came upon an appeal filed by a person who sought to know the procedure to get an appointment of Union Law Minister. Earlier, appellant was directed by CPIO of Ministry of Law and Justice to check with the Minister himself and take the appointment. After perusal of material on record which included the judgment of Supreme Court in P.V. Narasimha Rao v. State, (1998) 4 SCC 626 and hearing both the parties, CIC observed, “The office of the Cabinet Minister is an office established under the Constitution of India; the incumbent appointed to that office discharges functions as provided under the Constitution. Indisputably, the appointee to that office is, by virtue the constitution, vested with the authority to discharge those functions.” The Commission further observed that the Ministers have a duty to inform the people about their efforts to fulfill the promises they have made, through Section 4(1)(b) of RTI Act and also to furnish the information as sought by their voters under other provisions of RTI Act. “The Commission has no hesitation to declare the ministers in the Union government and all state governments as ‘public authorities’,” CIC noted. The Commission strongly recommended to implement the recommendations of NCRWC and Second Administrative Reforms Commission and replace ‘oath of secrecy’ made by each Minister when they were sworn in by the President or Governors, with ‘oath of transparency’ so that the minister will respect the right to information of the citizen, which was passed by the Parliament and considered as fundamental right intrinsic in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and be answerable/accountable to the citizens. While rendering relief to the appellant, Commission declared the office of Minister for Law as “public authority” under Section 2(h) of Right to Information Act and recommended appointment of a Central Public Information Officer to answer the information requests of the citizens and publish the information as per Section 4(1)(b) including facility of meeting people. [Hemant Dhage v. Deptt. of Legal Affairs, 2016 SCC OnLine CIC 2206, decided on March 27, 2016]

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