25 May 2010

No power with CIC to set-up inquiry committee: High Court

In a critical judgment, which sets to terms the powers of the Central Information Commission (CIC) under the Right to Information Act, 2005, the Delhi High Court has based the Commission for acting in recourse of such powers which it does not possess. In a writ petition filed by the Delhi Development Authority challenging various actions undertaken by the CIC, the Delhi High Court held that there is no power with the CIC to set up an inquiry committee under the provisions of the RTI Act. The High Court also declared that the 'Central Information Commission (Management) Regulations, 2007' were ultra vires the RTI Act in as much as the Commission had exceed its powers under the Act while framing the Regulations. The High Court also declared that there was no power with the Commission to direct the attendance of any person it sought to attend, as in the present case where the CIC had summoned the Vice Chairman of DDA. 

The Bench inter-alia observed as under;
19. It is clear that there is no provision under the RTI Act which empowers the Central Information Commission or, for that matter, the State Information Commission, to appoint a committee for conducting an inquiry for and on its behalf. The power of inquiry under Section 18, which has been given to the Central and the State Information Commissions is confined to an inquiry by the concerned Information Commission itself. There can be no delegation of this power to any other committee or person. ―Delegatus non potest delegare” is a well-known maxim which means – in the absence of any power, a delegate cannot sub-delegate its power to another person (See: Pramod K. Pankaj v. State of Bihar & Others: 2004 (3) SCC 723).
20. As we have seen, there is nothing in the Act which empowers the Central Information Commission to appoint a committee to conduct an inquiry on its behalf, the only rules that have been framed under Section 27 of the RTI Act, are the following:-
i) The Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005; and
ii) The Central Information Commission (Appeal Procedure) Rules, 2005.
None of these rules deal with the powers of inquiry of the Central Information Commission. Therefore, there is nothing prescribed either in the Act or the Rules made thereunder, whereby the Central Information Commission could be said to have been empowered to delegate its power of inquiry under Section 18 to some other person or a committee of persons.
21. Consequently, this question has to be answered in the negative. The Central Information Commission did not have the power to appoint the committee that it did by virtue of its order dated 22.09.2009 and, therefore, to this extent, the impugned order is liable to be set aside and it is so set aside.
23. A plain reading of the said Regulation 20 indicates that the Commission may entrust an inquiry in connection with any appeal or complaint pending before it to the Registrar or any other officer for the purpose and the Registrar or such other officer while conducting the inquiry shall have all the necessary powers, including summoning and enforcing the attendance of persons, etc. It is apparent, straightway, that the powers which have been given to the Commission under the RTI Act have been sought to be delegated to the Registrar or any other officer, who may be appointed for the purpose of conducting an inquiry. This is clearly impermissible. It is beyond what has been provided in the Act. There is no question of the Central Information Commission entrusting an inquiry to the Registrar or to anybody else. This would be in clear and gross violation of the provisions of the RTI Act. It would also amount to an abdication by the Commission of the duties specifically cast upon it by the statute. Regulation 20 is, therefore, clearly ultra vires the provisions of the RTI Act and is liable to be set aside.
39. There is no doubt that while the Central Information Commission is conducting an inquiry into a matter under Section 18 of the said Act, it has the powers to summon and enforce the attendance of persons and compel them to give written or oral evidence on oath and to produce the documents or things. But, it is only for the purposes of giving evidence and to produce documents or things that a person may be summoned by the Central Information Commission. This power of summoning for the purposes of evidence cannot be read as a general power to call any person for any purpose in the course of hearing before the Central Information Commission. In the present case, the Vice-Chairman, DDA was not summoned for either giving oral evidence or written evidence or to produce any documents or things in his possession. He was directed to be present for other reasons. That power is not there with the Central Information Commission. Such a power only exists in courts of plenary jurisdiction. The Central Information Commission is not a court and certainly not a body which exercises plenary jurisdiction. The Central Information Commission is a creature of the statute and its powers and functions are circumscribed by the statute. It does not exercise any power outside the statute. There is no power given by the statute to the Central Information Commission to call any person or compel any person to be present in a hearing before it in the proceedings under the Act, except for the purposes of giving evidence – oral or written or for producing any documents or things. Thus, no adverse inference could have been drawn for the absence of the Vice-Chairman, DDA in the proceedings held on 03.09.2009.

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