Supreme Court decides in its own favour – refuses information on pendency of cases
On 15/02/2016 the Supreme Court dismissed the Special Leave Petition filed by Adovate Prashant Bhushan against the impugned Order dated 07.01.2016 passed by a Division Bench of the High Court of Delhi at New Delhi in LPA 24/2015 whereby the High Court has allowed the LPA filed by Respondent No. 1 herein and has set aside the order dated 04.12.2014 passed by the Ld. Single Judge of Delhi High Court in WPC 6634 of 2011. , which means that Supreme Court would not have to maintain the data regarding pending judgments of SC and make it public under RTI. The SLP filed by the petitioner / RTI applicant (Lokesh Batra) was dismissed by the SC (Court 10, item 36), despite the fact that Mr. Bhushan submitted that according to SC’s own judgment of 2001, all the HCs had to maintain and disclose precisely this information. He said all the HCs were doing so, and SC must also follow its own judgment.
SYNOPSIS AND LIST OF DATES
The petitioner is filing the instant SLP against the impugned judgment/order dated 07.01.2016 passed by a Division Bench of the High Court of Delhi at New Delhi in LPA 24/2015 whereby the High Court has allowed the LPA filed by the “Registrar, Supreme Court of India”, setting aside the order passed by the Ld. Single Judge, which had upheld the order passed by the Ld. Central Information Commission (CIC). The Ld. CIC had directed the Supreme Court of India (a public authority under the Right to Information Act, 2005), to maintian its record in such a manner that the RTI applicants can be informed about the number of “reserved judgments” of the Supreme Court of India.
The Ld. CIC had directed: “After carefully considering the facts of the cases and the submissions made as above, we are of the view that the total number of such cases in which orders are reserved should be duly intimated to the general public. Now that the benefit of computerization is available, placing such data in the public domain should not be particularly difficult. Therefore, if the Supreme Court is not maintaining such data, it should do so now in order to facilitate the citizens to learn about the status of pendency before the Supreme Court. We direct the CPIO to provide to the Appellant within 15 working days from the receipt of this order the desired information, if available centrally, and, not available centrally, to bring it to the notice of the competent authority in the Supreme Court to ensure that necessary arrangements are made in future for compiling such information and disclosing it in the public domain.”
The above order of the CIC was challenged by the “Registrar, Supreme Court of India”, by way of a writ petition before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi. The Ld. Single Judge upheld the order of the Ld. CIC by stating: “I find no infirmity with the impugned order in so far as it directs that the records may be maintained in a manner so that the information regarding the period for which the judgments are pending after being reserved, is available with the petitioner in future.”
The Ld. Single Judge relied upon the decision of this Hon’ble Court in Anil Rai vs State of Bihar (2001) 7 SCC 318 and observed: “…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.”
The Ld. CIC had exercised its powers under Section 19(8)(a) of the RTI Act and the same was upheld by the Ld. Single Judge. Section 19(8)(a) of the RTI Act states: “In its decision, the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, has the power to—
(a) require the public authority to take any such steps as may be necessary to secure compliance with the provisions of this Act, including—
(i) by providing access to information, if so requested, in a particular form;”
(iii) by publishing certain information or categories of information.
(iv) by making necessary changes to its practices in relation to the maintenance, management and destruction of records;”
The Ld. Single Judge had taken note of a categorical decision of this Hon’ble Court wherein this Hon’ble Court had directed the collation of precisely this kind of information.
In Anil Rai vs State of Bihar (2001) 7 SCC 318, this Hon’ble Court had directed:
“…The dismal picture depicted before us on the basis of the facts of these appeals is that a few Judges in some High Courts, after conclusion of the arguments, keep the files withheld with them and do not pronounce judgments for periods spread over years…
… Delay in disposal of the cases facilitates the people to raise eye-brows, some time genuinely which, if not checked, may shake the confidence of the people in the judicial system…
“Under the prevalent circumstances in some of the High Courts, I feel it appropriate to provide some guidelines regarding the pronouncement of judgments which, I am sure, shall be followed by all concerned, being the mandate of this Court. Such guidelines, as for present, are as under:
(i) The Chief Justices of the High Courts may issue appropriate directions to the Registry that in case where the judgment is reserved and is pronounced later, a column be added in the judgment where, on the first page, after the cause-title, date of reserving the judgment and date of pronouncing it be separately mentioned by the court officer concerned.
(ii) That Chief Justice of the High Courts, on their administrative side, should direct the Court Officers/ Readers of the various Benches in the High Courts to furnish every month the list of cases in the matters where the judgments reserved are not pronounced within the period of that months.
(iii) On noticing that after conclusion of the arguments the judgment is not pronounced within a period of two months, the concerned Chief Justice shall draw the attention of the Bench concerned to the pending matter. The Chief Justice may also see the desirability of circulating the statement of such cases in which the judgments have not been pronounced within a period of six weeks from the date of conclusion of the arguments amongst the Judges of the High Court for their information. Such communication be conveyed as confidential and in a sealed cover.
(iv) Where a judgment is not pronounced within three months, from the date of reserving it, any of the parties in the case is permitted to file an application in the High Court with prayer for early judgment. Such application, as and when filed, shall be listed before the Bench concerned within two days excluding the intervening holidays.
(v) If the judgment, for any reason, is not pronounced within a period of six months, any of the parties of the said lis shall be entitled to move an application before the Chief Justice of the High Court with a prayer to withdraw the said case and to make it over to any other Bench for fresh arguments. It is open to the Chief Justice to grant the said prayer or to pass any other order as deems fit in the circumstances.”
However, the division bench has allowed the appeal filed by Registrar, Supreme Court of India on the incorrect ground that the information is not available and non-existent. Firstly, the Registrar, Supreme Court had itself admitted on record that the information exists but is not being maintained in the manner/form in which the CIC has directed. Secondly, it is inconceivable and incorrect to assert that this information does not exist. In fact, similar information was sought by the petitioner herein from the Delhi High Court and the same was supplied by the CPIO of the Delhi High Court.
The argument of the Supreme Court registry that they do not separately keep the information of cases where judgments are reserved is incorrect and false. If it were true, then that would mean that if a Hon’ble judge of the Supreme Court wishes to know the cases where he has to deliver his judgments, the Supreme Court Registry would not be of much help to him, and would instead ask the Hon’ble judge to recall from his own memory.
It is submitted that there are 2 types of cases: Pending and Disposed. And then there are 2 types of pending cases: (i) where next date of listing has to be given, (ii) where judgments are reserved. Registry has to fix dates and send the cases to listing branch of SC in cases where more arguments/hearing is required. These cases are also known as adjourned matters. In the other cases, which are also ‘pending’, no dates have to be fixed/given since the arguments have been concluded and judgment/order is reserved. Therefore, this information is easily available with the Registry and Court Masters.
In any case, CIC had not asked the Hon’ble Supreme Court to create a compilation (if according to SC it doesn’t exist) and furnish it to the petitioner herein. CIC has only given a direction for future as to how SC can maintain its record in order to better serve the citizen’s right to information. This is a statutory power of the CIC under Section 19(8)(a)(iii) and (iv) of the RTI Act. Even de hors the said sub-section, the CIC as the guardian of the RTI Act is well within its right to direct the PIO and other officers of any public authority to maintain its records in manner that effectuates the people’s fundamental right to know. Therefore, the Ld. Single Judge had rightly upheld the said direction of the CIC.
The right to information regarding the functioning of public institutions is a fundamental right as enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution of India. The Courts of the country have declared in a plethora of cases that the most important value for the functioning of a healthy and well informed democracy is transparency. In the matter of State of UP v. Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 865, a constitutional bench of this Hon’ble Court held that: “[I]n a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by their functionaries…The right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary, when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can, at any rate, have no repercussion on public security. To cover with veil of secrecy, the common routine business is not in the interest of public.” (Para 74)
In the case of S.P. Gupta v. President of India and Ors, AIR 1982 SC 149, a seven Judge Bench of this Hon’ble Court of India made the following observations regarding the right to information: “There is also in every democracy a certain amount of public suspicion and distrust of government varying of course from time to time according to its performance, which prompts people to insist upon maximum exposure of its functioning. It is axiomatic that every action of the government must be actuated by public interest but even so we find cases, though not many, where governmental action is taken not for public good but for personal gain or other extraneous considerations. Sometimes governmental action is influenced by political and other motivations and pressures arid at tunes, there are also instances of misuse or abuse of authority on the part of the executive, Now, if secrecy were to be observed in the functioning of government and the processes of government were to be kept hidden from public scrutiny, it would tend to promote and encourage oppression, corruption and misuse or abuse of authority, for it would all be shrouded in the veil of secrecy without any public accountability. But if there is an open government with means, of information available to the public there would be greater exposure of the functioning of government and it would help to assure the people a better and more efficient administration. There can be little doubt that’ exposure to public gaze and scrutiny is one of the surest means of achieving a clean and healthy administration. It has been truly said that an open government is clean government and a powerful safeguard against political and administrative aberration and inefficiency.” (Para 65)
However, the division bench in the impugned order ignored the above facts and law. Hence, the instant Special Leave Petition.