Wednesday April 24, 2024

LHC stays removal of Chief Information Commissioner

The show-cause notice issued by the Information Secretary before his removal was illegal, he said

By Asif Mahmood Butt
January 25, 2024
The Lahore High Court building. — LHC website
The Lahore High Court building. — LHC website 

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has suspended the decision of Punjab government on a petition against the removal of head of Punjab Information Commission from the post. The court ordered the Punjab government for a reply by January 30.

Chief Information Commissioner Syed Mehboob Qadir, in his petition, took the stand the Punjab Information Commission was an independent body, not under the Department of Information and Culture. The show-cause notice issued by the Information Secretary before his removal was illegal, he said. The petition stated all matters of Punjab Information Commission were regulated under the Access to Information Act, 2013. The definition of misconduct for the removal of Information Commissioner under the said law had not yet been formulated. The issuance of show-cause notice was based on bad intention, it said.

Issuance of show-cause notices to three information commissioners for mere delay in responding was a mockery of the law.

According to the petition, only two days after the filing of reply to the show-cause notice, without mentioning the stand of the Commission, issuing the order of removal is like presenting services for any illegal action in the interest of caretaker government.

Basing the impeachment orders on Sub-Clause 8 of Section 5 of RTI Act, 2013 and ignoring the mandatory requirement of open inquiry under Sub-Clause 9, 10 and 11, was termed as flouting the law.

Relying on Sub-Clause 8 of Section 5 and ignoring the mandatory requirement of open inquiry by the Punjab Assembly under Sub-Clause 9, 10 and 11 as per Access to Information Act was not correct.

In the petition, it was held under the Right to Information Act 2013, the Commission was bound to submit all the reports, including annual report, along with the financial affairs to Punjab Assembly and to implement the instructions of the Assembly. “The Sub-Clause 10 of Section 5 merely empowers the Punjab Assembly to inquire into the government’s concerns about the Information Commissioner. But, instead of following the above procedure, the government issued removal orders under the unrelated Sub-Clause 8,” the petition said.

According to the preamble of Access to Information Act, 2013, the purpose of the Act was to hold government agencies accountable, the petition said. “The law does not provide Information and Culture Department with the administrative authority of Punjab Information Commission,” it mentioned.

The head of Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) and former Information Commissioner Punjab, Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, said the decision of the government was illegal. He termed the litigation between Information and Culture Department and Information Commission a sign of caretaker government crossing every limit for its interests in remaining period. He called the Information Commission a source of hope for the fundamental right of people to access information.

Sources said the caretaker government had long been apprehensive about the bold decisions of Chief Information Commission to disclose information. Recently, the Commission’s decisions on the DGPR’s Information and Culture Department and cabinet ministers with dual citizenship led to his removal from office, the sources said.

A senior government official, on the condition of anonymity, however, said the allegation against the government was completely false and contrary to facts. “The head of Information Commission and the two commissioners were removed from their posts as per the law approved by the provincial cabinet,” he said.