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23rd March Current Affairs

State Election Commissioners

In News:

The Supreme Court has held that independent persons and not bureaucrats should be appointed State Election Commissioners.

What’s the case?

An appeal was filed by the Goa government against an order of the Bombay High Court which had issued a stay on certain municipal election notifications issued by the Goa State Election Commission.

The Supreme court has now upheld the High Court order regarding municipal reservations and directed the state government to notify reservations for the municipalities of Mormugao, Margao, Mapusa, Quepem and Sanguem within the next 10 days.

It also directed the State Election Commission to complete the election process by April 30.

Supreme Court’s observations/judgement on independence of the state election commissioners:

Independent persons and not bureaucrats should be appointed State Election Commissioners. This is necessary because giving government employees the additional charge of State Election Commissioners is a “mockery of the Constitution”.

The States should appoint independent persons as Election Commissioners all along the length and breadth of the country.

Need for:

The court said that it was “disturbing” to see government employees manning State Election Commissions as an add-on job.

Besides, under the constitutional mandate, it is the duty of the State to not interfere with the functioning of the State Election Commission.

About the State Election Commission:

The Constitution of India vests in the State Election Commission, consisting of a State Election Commissioner, the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of all elections to the Panchayats and the Municipalities (Articles 243K, 243ZA).

The State Election Commissioner is appointed by the Governor.

As per article 243 the Governor, when so requested by the State Election Commission, make available to the State Election Commission such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of the functions conferred on the SEC by clause (1).

Under the Constitution, establishment of local self-government institutions is the responsibility of the states (entry 5, List II, Seventh Schedule).

Powers and removal of state election commissioner:

The State Election Commissioner has the status, salary and allowance of a Judge of a High Court and cannot be removed from office except in like manner and on the like grounds as a Judge of a High Court.

The ECI and SECs have a similar mandate; do they also have similar powers?

The provisions of Article 243K of the Constitution, which provides for setting up of SECs, are almost identical to those of Article 324 related to the EC. In other words, the SECs enjoy the same status as the EC.

In 2006, the Supreme Court emphasised the two constitutional authorities enjoy the same powers.

In Kishan Singh Tomar vs Municipal Corporation of the City of Ahmedabad, the Supreme Court directed that state governments should abide by orders of the SECs during the conduct of the panchayat and municipal elections, just like they follow the instructions of the EC during Assembly and Parliament polls.

In practice, are the SECs as independent as the EC?

Although state election commissioners are appointed by the state governors and can only be removed by impeachment, in the last two decades many have struggled to assert their independence.

One of the most widely remembered cases of confrontation happened in Maharashtra in 2008. Then state election commissioner Nand Lal was arrested and sent to jail for two days in March 2008 after the Assembly found him guilty of breach of privilege in an alleged conflict over his jurisdiction and powers.

Rajasthan Information Commission penalises five officials for negligence

In News:

The Rajasthan State Information Commission has adopted a tough stance against government officials showing negligence in providing information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The Commission has imposed fines on five officials of different departments (Including secretary, Village Development Officer and village secretaries) and passed adverse remarks about their conduct.

What’s the issue?

The officials have been fined for not providing information to applicants. Besides, the officials had not responded to the Commission’s notices.

About the RTI Act, 2005:

It sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.

It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.

This act was enacted in order to consolidate the fundamental right in the Indian constitution ‘freedom of speech’. Since RTI is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is an implied fundamental right.

Key Provisions:

Section 4 of the RTI Act requires suo motu disclosure of information by each public authority.

Section 8 (1) mentions exemptions against furnishing information under RTI Act.

Section 8 (2) provides for disclosure of information exempted under Official Secrets Act, 1923 if larger public interest is served.

Information Commissioners and PIOs:

The Act also provides for appointment of Information Commissioners at Central and State level.

Public authorities have designated some of its officers as Public Information Officer. They are responsible to give information to a person who seeks information under the RTI Act.

Time period:

In normal course, information to an applicant is to be supplied within 30 days from the receipt of application by the public authority.

If information sought concerns the life or liberty of a person, it shall be supplied within 48 hours.

In case the application is sent through the Assistant Public Information Officer or it is sent to a wrong public authority, five days shall be added to the period of thirty days or 48 hours, as the case may be.

Applicability of RTI to:

Private bodies:

Private bodies are not within the Act’s ambit directly.

In a decision of Sarbjit roy vs Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Central Information Commission also reaffirmed that privatised public utility companies fall within the purview of RTI.

Political parties:

The Central Information Commission (CIC) had held that the political parties are public authorities and are answerable to citizens under the RTI Act.

But in August 2013 the government introduced a Right To Information (Amendment) Bill which would remove political parties from the scope of the law.

Currently no parties are under the RTI Act and a case has been filed for bringing all political parties under it.

Chief Justice of India:

Supreme Court of India on 13 November 2019, upheld the decision of Delhi High Court bringing the office of Chief Justice of India under the purview of Right to Information (RTI) Act.