The Bar Councils are open to public scrutiny under the Right to Information Act (RTI) and should set-up a mechanism to facilitate processing of applications directed to them under the transparency law, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has held.
The Bar Council of India and Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana had rejected several RTI applications saying though they were set-up under the Advocates Act, 1961 they did not get direct or indirect funding from Government, hence out of the purview of the RTI Act.
However, the Commission in a recent order held that the councils might not have been financed by the Central or State governments but they were set-up under an Act passed by the Parliament and hence they are covered by the RTI Act.
“It is held that the Bar Councils – Bar Council of India and the State Bar Councils – are public authorities within the RTI Act…the Bar Councils are directed to take all necessary steps to carry out their duties and responsibilities assigned by the RTI Act,” Information Commissioner A N Tiwari said while directing them to respond to all RTI queries addressed to them.
The Commission had clubbed 10 cases for hearing as in all of them information was rejected by the Bar Councils saying their “main source” of fund was not the Government but Enrolment fee collected from members and that the Government had provided some grants only occasionally.
The Councils also put forth a decision of Maharashtra State Commission that they are analogous to cooperative societies, hence not covered under the transparency law.
“It is admitted by them that the Bar Council of India and other State Bar Councils…were ‘statutory bodies’. But, they oppose any proposition that for that reason alone they are a public authority… Their plea is that they did not satisfy the requirement of being substantially funded directly or indirectly by the government,” Tiwari said.
He said their argument is that unless an entity satisfies all elements of qualifications mentioned in the RTI Act, it cannot be defined as a public authority under it.
Tiwari said qualification specified under the RTI Act for bringing some entity under it are mutually exclusive although one or more than one element may be present in a given entity.
“Even one of these elements is sufficient for an entity to be characterised as public authority,” he said.