Hyderabad: In a rare and significant decision on Thursday, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul vacated a stay order granted by it four years ago on a judgement by then AP High Court, which quashed the appointment of four State Information Commissioners, stating that their appointment by the Governor was not done as per Section 15 of the RTI Act.
With the vacating of the stay order, the appointments of all four Information Commissioners become invalid with immediate effect.
Information Commissioners Varre Venkateswarlu, L. Tantiya Kumari, M. Vijayanirmala and Imtiaz Ahmed, whose appointment was quashed, have still to complete eight months of their five-year tenure.
These four commissioners, along with another four, were recommended by a three-member panel headed by then Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, then Leader of the Opposition and present Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu, and then Deputy Chief Minister Damodar Raj Narasimha, in February 2012.
However, Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan cleared only four — Vijay Babu, M. Ratan, S. Prabhakara Reddy and Madhukar Raj — and refused the appointments of the remaining by raising various queries, including the political connections of the four.
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Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy persuaded the Governor to give his approval for the rest as well. This was objected to by former Union home secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, Forum For Good Governance secretary M. Padmanabha Reddy and others, who approached the AP High Court against the appointment of these four commissioners.
On September 12, 2013, a division bench of the AP High Court comprising Chief Justice Kalyan Jyoti Sengupta and Justice K.C. Bhanu quashed the appointment of the four commissioners noting that there was no record that the state government had followed the procedure prescribed by the apex court for appointing the respondents as RTI commissioners.
The bench also pointed out that there was no averment in the counters filed by the four respondent commissioners that they had dissociated themselves from their political connections before appointment.
The four commissioners challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court, which granted a stay in February 2013 that was vacated on Thursday.
With Thursday’s decision, the AP Information Commission (still not bifurcated between TS and AP) which presently has six Commissioners enjoying the rank of Chief Secretary to Government, has come down to two.
Moreover, present Chief Information Commissioner, Mr Ratan, will demit office on Saturday (April 22), leaving the Commission with only one Commissioner, Vijay Babu, who will also demit office shortly, on May 13. Earlier, Madhukar Raj and S. Prabhakara Redy demitted office after completing their tenure.
Mr Padmanabha Reddy, secretary of the Forum for Good Governance, says that since the Commission is going to be defunct after Mr Vijay Babu’s exit in May, the CMs of both states should constitute separate Information Commissions to implement the RTI Act.
Meanwhile, Mr Padmanabhaiah, who filed the petition against the appointment of the four Commissioners in 2013, said, “I am extremely happy. The appointment was done mischievously; the then government kept the key information regarding their political connections in the dark and only recommended them as social activists etc. We met Governor Narasimhan and explained to him that he should not accept the recommendation of the three-member committee, and should stick to his earlier rejection of all the four names. But later pressure was put on him by the government and he accepted.
“Then we went to court and when the HC struck down their appointments, I believe the Commissioners filed a Special Leave Petition before the SC, stating that they may continue till the whole Commission gets divided among the two states.
“Anyway, the SC has vacated the stay. Even now, I appeal to the governments to follow the procedure laid down in Section 15 of the RTI Act before appointing new Commissioners.” The AP Information Commission is the final appeal authority in cases pertaining to Right To Information petitions....