Blow to RTI ; SC dismisses Plea for maintaining records of Reserved Judgments [Read Order]
Supreme Court of India Today dismissed an Appeal filed by RTI activist Mr. Lokesh Batra challenging an order of Delhi High Court which ruled that the Supreme Court Registrar cannot be directed under the RTI Act to maintain records relating to period for which judgments remain pending after being reserved.
Mr. Prashant Bhushan submitted before the Supreme Court that if this petition is dismissed then that would undermine the confidence of the people in Supreme Court and people would say that Supreme Court makes grand statements about transparency and RTI but when it comes to itself, then it is reluctant to disclose even the most basic information.
Mr. Lokesh Batra had filed an RTI application before the CPIO seeking the following information;
“(a) Total number of cases pending for judgments where ‘Arguments have been heard prior to 31 December 2007 and Judgments are reserved’.
(b) Total number of cases pending for judgments where ‘Arguments have been heard between period 01 January 2008 and 31 December 2008 and Judgments are reserved’.
(c) Total number of cases pending for judgments where ‘Arguments have been heard between period 01 January 2009 and 15 December 2009 and Judgments are reserved’.”
On 22.12.2009, he filed another application under the Act seeking the following information:- “Kindly provide me information under RTI Act 2005 ,In respect of those cases where ‘Arguments have been heard prior to 22. December 2009 and Judgments are reserved’ in the Supreme Court. In this context following informationis requested in respect of each such case. (a) Case Number. (b) Case Type. (c) Date the Case was first admitted. (d) Date when Judgment was reserved.” By an order dated 12.01.2010, CPIO rejected the application dated 17.12.2009 and informed that the data is not maintained by the registry in the manner as sought for by him. The CPIO further advised that for all the information with regard to the matters sub judice before the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court Rules, 1966 and the Supreme Court of India, Practice & Procedure ‘A Handbook of Information’- which are also available on the website of the Supreme Court of India- may be referred. A similar order dated 22.01.2010 was passed by CPIO in response to the RTI application dated 22.12.2009. Though he filed an appeal before the appellate authority , that was also dismissed. But the CIC allowed the appeal.
The Writ Petition filed by Supreme Court Registrar was rejected by the Single Judge of the Delhi High Court saying that data regarding pending judgments must be maintained. Then the Supreme Court Registrar filed an appeal before the division bench. Allowing the appeal and setting aside the order of the Single Judge, the Division Bench held as follows;
“As already noticed above, “right to information” under Section 2(j) means only the right to information which is held by any public authority. We do not find any other provision under the Act under which a direction can be issued to the public authority to collate the information in the manner in which it is sought by the applicant.”
Today the SLP filed by Lokesh Batra was dismissed by the Supreme Court despite the fact that Mr. Bhushan submitted that according to Supreme Court’s own judgment of 2001, all the HCs had to maintain and disclose precisely this information. He said all the High Courts were doing so, and SC must also follow its own judgment.
The Single Judge relied upon Anil Rai vs State of Bihar (2001) 7 SCC 318 and observed as follows;
“…question to be addressed is whether the CIC has the jurisdiction to issue/pass directions to ensure that necessary arrangements are made in future for compiling such information. Section 4(1)(a) of the Act enjoins every public authority to maintain records in a manner and the form, which would facilitate the right to information under the Act. Plainly, information as to pendency of judgments is vital information regarding functioning of the courts. The Supreme Court in the case of Anil Rai v. State of Bihar: (2001) 7 SCC 318 had also pointed out that the confidence of the litigants in the results of the litigation is shaken if there is an unreasonable delay in rendering a judgment after reserving the same and had further suggested that the first page of the judgment also bear the date on which the same was reserved. In view of the relevance of the information the CIC has directed that arrangements be made for disclosing such information.”