Tuesday, November 22, 2011

RTI covers Governor’s report to Prez on state situation: Bombay HC

New Delhi: The Goa bench of Bombay high court stretched the RTI Act’s ambit to the maximum when it ruled that a governor’s report to the Centre about the political situation in a state could not be kept under wraps and ordered its disclosure upon an application under the transparency law. This has sent shock waves in the power corridors as the Union Cabinet headed by the PM relies on the secret report sent by the governor to the President as a precursor to action under Article 356 of the Constitution for imposition of central rule in a state.
Aware of the serious political fallout of such disclosure, the Centre has asked its law officers to draft an appeal urgently to challenge the HC verdict in the Supreme Court. The appeal against the November 14 HC verdict is expected to be filed by early next week, official sources told TOI.
BJP leader Manohar Parrikar had sought a copy of the Goa governor’s report to the Union home minister regarding the political situation in the state during the period between July 24-August 14, 2007. But the governor’s principal information officer declined to provide the same under RTI Act. However, the Goa State Information Commission directed Raj Bhavan to provide the report to Parrikar. The PIO appealed against it before the Goa bench.
A division bench of Justices D G Karnik and D M Reis said, “It must be held that the governor cannot claim an exemption under clause (e) of sub-clause (1) of Section 8 of the RTI Act in respect of disclosure of a report made by him under Article 356 of the Constitution.”
Appearing for the governor’s PIO, additional solicitor general Vivek Tankha said the information relating to day-today governance was available with ministries and departments and the rare constitutional functions discharged by the governor as the head of the state could not be said to have been discharged as a public authority as the RTI Act regarded him only as “competent authority”.
But the bench saw no difference between the “competent authority” and “public authority”. Relying on a Delhi high court order which termed the chief justice of India as a public authority, it said, “The reason for which the CJI was a ‘public authority’ notwithstanding him being the ‘competent authority’ apply with equal force for not excluding the President and the governor from the definition of public authority.”
It also refused to buy the argument that the President and the governors were the heads of the country and the state respectively and were not amenable to directions from any other authority like state information commission.

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