New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has directed the government to disclose the Cabinet note along with all relevant correspondence and annexure related to the 103rd Constitution amendment which paved the way for 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of society.
The Commission dismissed the argument of the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment citing Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI which exempts from disclosure Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, secretaries and other officers calling it “grossly inappropriate”.
The Section allows that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken and the matter is complete or over, but the ministry still denied the information.
“…no justification was provided for invoking the said exemption. In fact, the CPIO [Central public information officer] merely reproduced the provision of Section 8(1)(i) in his reply to the RTI Application. The said conduct of the CPIO is viewed adversely by the Commission as it is suggestive of his non-application of mind in dealing with matters under the RTI Act,” information commissioner Saroj Punhani noted.
Applicant Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative had challenged that denial on grounds that the Bill has already been passed and the president has also accorded the assent on January 12, 2019, leaving no pending matter related to enactment of the law. “…Appellant believes the matter pertaining to the enactment of the Constitution Amendment Bill is complete. The implementation of the 1% quota for EWS sections of society is also underway,” Nayak argued before the Commission.
He also relied on the order of the then-information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi on June 26, 2012, when he had directed the government to make public all Cabinet notes relating to proposals for new Bills that are to be tabled in parliament and also display them on the website of the department within seven days of tabling the Bill in the house.
Punhani pulled up the social justice ministry’s CPIO (who handles RTI applications) for obstructing the right to information of the appellant by invoking Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act to deny the information. “The CPIO is severely admonished for the inappropriate denial of the information to the Appellant and he is warned to ensure that due diligence is exercised while dealing with the RTI applications in future,” she said.
Nayak said barely 24 hours before the date and time of hearing, the CPIO sent him a mail showing attachments of 526 scanned pages. “However, I was unable to access them on their Google drive. I brought this to the notice of the CIC during the hearing. The CIC also tried to access the documents, but permission was denied,” he said. Punhani directed the CPIO to provide all the documents on a working Google drive link to Nayak.
“The Commission has noted the prayer of the Appellant regarding the suo motu disclosure of the Cabinet note pertaining to the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019 in light of provisions of Section 4(1)(c) & 4(1)(d) of the RTI Act as well as Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act which prescribes that the material on the basis of which Cabinet decisions are taken should be made public after the decision has been taken,” she said in the order which has been sent to the secretary, Ministry of Social Justice.