Information Commissioner Has No Jurisdiction To Comment Adversely upon the Functioning of Any Public Authority: Delhi HC
The central public information officer (CPIO) of the Lok Sabha Sansad Bhawan filed a writ petition against the central information commissioner (CIC) because he directed on what action should be taken by parliamentarians to make the members of Parliament local area development scheme (MPLADS) funds transparent and workable; following which, the Delhi High Court (HC) stopped the CIC in his tracks, observing he went beyond his jurisdiction of limiting his order to dissemination of information for transparency.
 
Judge of the Delhi HC, Subramonium Prasad J, observed in his 15 May 2024 order, “Steps to ensure effective utilisation of funds, reduce the pendency,” are within the scope of the CIC.
 
The Court has also directed the CPIO and head of the public authority, that is the Lok Sabha Sansad Bhawan, under section 19(8)(a)(iii) of the RTI Act, to “publish MP-wise, constituency-wise and work-wise details of the funds” which the CIC had recommended.
 
However, the judge, in no uncertain terms, pointed out that “The CIC has no jurisdiction to comment upon the utilisation of funds by the members of parliament under the members of parliament local area development scheme (MPLADS). The scope of the RTI Act is only to ensure that information sought for under the RTI Act is dissipated in order to secure access to information under the control of public authorities.”
 
Hence, the Court order states that the CIC’s comment on “how MPs are utilising MPLAD funds have to be expunged…and abuse of funds stands eschewed.”
 
Why did the court think that the CIC has gone beyond his role?
 
The judge observed in his order that the CIC commented that some MPs are not spending their MPLADS amounts in the earlier years of their term, but deliberately accumulating the funds for the last year, preferably before general elections to gain advantage improperly. Also, that the MPLADS is criticised for creating this kind of undue advantage to MPs vis-à-vis the contestants in the next election. If this is perpetuated there is a possibility of questioning it as unconstitutional.
 
The CIC also recommended that the ministry of statistics and programme implementation should prevent this kind of 'abuse' of MPLADS funds, and implement their guidelines to distribute the money equally in each year in the five-year term. 
 
The CIC advocated that “The problem also can be tackled by introducing transparency measures by giving full details of the assets created, beneficiary classes or communities or areas or number of people that might get benefitted, etc. from time to time, so that voters know how their MP spent or had not spent money every year and what works were completed or not completed.”
 
This RTI application, which was filed by RTI applicant Ram Gopal Dixit, sought the following information from the CPIO Lok Sabha Sansad Bhawan, New Delhi: 
 
Please provide certified copies of the following:
 
i) Work initiated, pending and completed by Sh. Rajesh Diwakar, Hon'ble Member of Parliament, Hathras Constituency. 
 Report of the development and public welfare work initiated by Sh. Rajesh Diwakar, Hon'ble Member of Parliament, Hathras Constituency.
 
ii) Name of the agencies involved in the construction/ initiation/ completion of various projects of Public Welfare in Hathras Constituency.
 
iii) Details of funds spent on such work etc. in Hathras Constituency, Uttar Pradesh by Sh. Rajesh Diwakar, Hon'ble Member of Parliament, Hathras Constituency. 
 
iv) Details of MPLADS fund utilisation and status of works recommended and executed in North Eastern Railway such as Road/Railway Station, etc.
 
According to the annual review of the MPLADS programme published by the ministry of statistics & programme implementation on 30 August 2018, the maximum percentage utilisation of funds was by Lakshadweep, A&N Islands, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. 
 
The good part of the Court order is that the CIC recommendation to publish MP-wise, constituency-wise and work-wise details under voluntary disclosure under Section 4, has been accepted by the court.
 
At Sunday’s RTI Katta online meeting, opinions differed on this judgment with former CIC and RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi stating that the CIC was well within his scope to give an action-plan to make this information more transparent as it relates to the larger public interest. However, RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar differed as it did go beyond the scope of the CIC, as he is not the authority to order any action plan for the public authority.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)
Comments
Meenal Mamdani
6 days ago
I see that information on utilization of MPLADS funds will be available to those who wish to see it.
That is the crux.
People can see for themselves when the funds were used, if in the last year, close to elections, and for what purpose were the funds used, so they can draw their own conclusions.
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