Government favours strengthening RTI Act, defends CAT

The union government Sunday said it is moving to amend and strengthen the country’s Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005 to bring in more transparency in the government’s functioning and to help resolve grievances of officials.

“The historic Right to Information Act, 2005, has brought great transparency in governance,” said Minister of State for Personnel and Pubic Grievances Prithviraj Chavan.

“We are taking further steps to improve the Right to Information Act, 2005, to strengthen it to increase proactive disclosure, so that most of the information except national security and personal privacy related information would be in the public domain,” added the minister, while addressing the annual All India Conference of the Central Administrative Tribunals (CAT).

The conference was organised to mark the silver jubilee year of establishment of CAT in Nov 1, 1985.

Addressing the conference, Chief Justice of India (CJI) K.G. Balakrishnan took note of the growing criticism and demand to abolish CAT as all the rulings of the country’s quasi-judicial tribunal to resolve the grievances of government employees are liable to be challenged before the high courts, adding to one more tier of litigation.

“Critics have argued that since all orders of the CAT benches can be questioned before the high courts following the L. Chandra Kumar decision, they have been rendered redundant and hence there is a case for their abolition,” the CJI said.

The CJI, however, favoured continuation of the CAT. “In light of the L. Chandra Kumar decision, it is desirable to continue with the administrative tribunals, despite the power of the high courts to scrutinize their decisions.”

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When CAT was established, it was envisaged that its ruling would not be challenged before any high court. Some state high courts subsequently held that they have constitutional right to hear the appeal against CAT’s ruling. This was later upheld by the Supreme Court in L. Chandra Kumar’s case.

“For one, if its decisions were not questioned before the high court, it would definitely contribute to the piling up of service-disputes before the Supreme Court,” the CJI pointed out.

“Furthermore, many litigants with limited means would find it difficult to approach the Supreme Court in the event of unfavourable decisions by the tribunals. For such litigants, the high court is the next and most easily accessible forum for seeking a remedy against the decisions of the CAT,” he pointed out.

“It must be noted at this point that an overwhelming majority of the decisions given by the benches of the CAT are upheld by the respective high courts,” said the CJI.

“Therefore,” he added, “if the quality of decisions given by the tribunals is of a high standard, then the additional layer of scrutiny by the high courts is not an adequate ground for doing away with the tribunals altogether.”

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