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Madras HC directs Centre, TN to constitute special bench of CIC, State Information Commission to deal with RTI pleas on Covid-19 issues

The petition said that the RTI queries on matters concerning life and liberty, including RTI cases related to Covid-19, were not being disposed of expeditiously by the Information Commissions.

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The Madras High Court on Wednesday directed Tamil Nadu and the Centre to consider constituting a special bench of both the State Information Commission and Central Information Commission to deal with Right to Information requests related to Covid-19 issues.
The division bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy passed this order.

The petition said that the RTI queries on matters concerning life and liberty, including RTI cases related to Covid-19, were not being disposed of expeditiously by the Information Commissions. As such, the petitioner has also sought for the constitution of Special Benches of the Information Commissions to deal with Covid-19 related RTI queries expeditiously.

The petitioner, Advocate M.V. Swaroop, said that on an average it takes about 18 months for the CIC to dispose of an appeal. These appeals do not require detailed legal arguments, said the petitioner. There must be a stricter timeline at first appeal and second appeal stage.

Swaroop pointed out: “These RTIs have to be disposed of in a more expeditious manner… RTIs may be regarding vaccine rollout, beds… all these RTIs are time-sensitive information and will become stale, if not given expeditiously.”

After hearing all submissions in the matter, the Court has directed both the CIC and SIC authorities to take a call on whether COVID-19 related RTI queries can be taken up on a daily basis and communicate their decision to the petitioner.

The petitioner also asked the court to keep the matter pending in as much as it concerns the need for laying down stricter timelines to dispose of RTI appeals concerning urgent matters. However, the court confined itself to recording that the petitioner can make a representation to the Central government to introduce appropriate provisions in the RTI Act on this issue.

“No writ of mandamus can be issued to direct any legislation or even toll incorporate an amendment, ” the Court said.

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The Court has further directed the State authorities to communicate its decision on this issue within a week from the date of the order to the petitioner. The Central Information Commission has been directed to communicate its decision within a week of receipt of the order.

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