The Supreme Court on Monday directed all State Information Commissions (SICs) to establish a hybrid system to hear complaints and appeals under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act).
SICs must provide parties the choice to opt for hybrid hearings and share video links on the cause list, the Court has ordered. Electronic filing must be made efficient and accessible for all litigants, the top court added.
"All State and Central Ministries shall take steps within a period of one month to compile the email addresses of the Central and State PIOs which shall be furnished to all the SICs and the CIC. For implementation of this order, DoPT shall convene a meeting of all State and Central Information Commissioners to prepare a timeline to adhere to the above directive. State to provide funds wherever required," the top court further directed.
While passing the order, a bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra also observed that access to justice is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution and an essential component of the freedom of speech.
The Court also emphasized that the use of technology is no longer a choice but a necessity. The Court noted that the Central Information Commission (CIC) conducts its proceedings in a hybrid manner, which eases access for citizens.
"Properly deployed for the purpose of hybrid or virtual hearing, technology can help in access to justice and negating the right to travel log journeys to attend hearings," the Court added.
The top court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) aimed at improving the working of the SICs. The plea had prayed for the following remedies -
to provide the option for both physical and virtual hearings for handling complaints and second appeals;
update and establish self-contained portals for filing RTI requests;
display the status of pending cases and maintain a list of cases that have been resolved;
decision on second appeals within a four-month timeframe;
establish guidelines for the timely resolution of a specific number of cases;
prepare annual reports concerning the provisions of the RTI Act and submit them to the state government;
ensure the recovery of penalties from information commission officers who have committed errors.
The plea has now been disposed of by the top court after ordering all SICs to ensure hybrid hearings and electronic filing of cases are implemented.