While hearing an interim application filed by former Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi and activist Aruna Roy, the Supreme Court has stayed a part of its own judgment in Namit Sharma v. Union of India (2013 (1) SCC 745) which mandated that only a sitting or retired Chief Justice of a High Court or a Supreme Court judge could head the Central and State Information Commissions.
The stay order was passed yesterday by a Division Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and A.K. Sikri and it will continue during the pendency of the review petition filed against the judgment in Namit Sharma [Review Petition (C) No. 2309 of 2012].
The Court in its order stated:
“……We are not inclined to stay the operation of the entire judgment in Namit Sharma Vs. Union of India but we direct that the following directions in sub- paras 106.8 and 106.9 quoted here-in-below shall remain stayed during the pendency of the Review Petition (C) No. 2309 of 2012.
106.8 The Information Commissions at the respective levels shall henceforth work in Benches of two members each. One of them being a 'judicial member', while the other an 'expert member'. The judicial member should be a person possessing a degree in law, having a judicially trained mind and experience in performing judicial functions. A law officer or a lawyer may also be eligible provided he is a person who has practiced law at least for a period of twenty years as on the date of the advertisement. Such lawyer should also have experience in social work. We are of the considered view that the competent authority should prefer a person who is or has been a Judge of the High Court for appointment as Information Commissioners. Chief Information Commissioner at the Centre or State level shall only be a person who is or has been a Chief Justice of the High Court or a Judge of the Supreme Court of India………..”
The Court also allowed the government to fill up the vacant posts of Information Commissioners in accordance with the RTI Act and the judgment in Namit Sharma except for those parts of the judgment which have been stayed. It further held that the Chief Commissioners already functioning will continue to function until the disposal of the review petition.
A Bench of Justices A. K. Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar had earlier reserved its verdict on the Centre's review petition. According to The Indian Express, the Court is now hearing the matter afresh since Justice Kumar retired in December, 2012, but the verdict on the review petition was not delivered.
The hearing of the review petition continued today as Advocate Amit Sharma advanced his arguments. The Court after hearing the arguments of the counsel posted the matter for April 23, 2013.