By – Rashi Bisht
SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
|NAME OF THE CASE||CHIEF INFORMATION COMMISSIONER v. HIGH COURT OF GUJARAT AND ANOTHER|
|CITATION||Civil Appeal No. 1966-1967 of 2020|
|DATE OF THE CASE||04 Mar 2020|
|APPELLANT||Chief Information Commissioner|
|RESPONDENT||High Court of Gujarat and Another|
|BENCH/ JUDGE||R. Banumathi, A.S. Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ.|
|STATUTES/ CONSTITUENTS INVOLVED||Constitution of India; Right to Information (2005)|
|IMPORTANT SECTION/ ARTICLES||RTI (2005) sec 2(f), sec 2(h), sec 2(i), sec 2 (j). RTI sec 8(1), sub section of (1), sec 8(1)(a), sec 8(1)(j). Sec (8) clause (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i), (j).|
The Gujarat Information Commission and the Chief Information Commission contested the Gujarat High Court’s judgment, which found that the high court had the ability to limit the issuance of certified copies of documents under the Right to Information Act. The judgment of the Gujarat High Court was appealed by the Gujarat Information Commission and the Chief Information Commission. According to Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993, it is necessary to present an affidavit explaining why the third party is obtaining a copy of the files. The court considered two issues: first, whether Rule 151 was inconsistent with the wording of the RTI Act in any way.
- In Chief Information Commissioner v. High Court of Gujarat, the Supreme Court ruled that information to be certified copies on the judicial side must be collected using the procedure provided by the High Court Rules, and the provisions of the RTI Act must not be invoked.
- The Chief Information Commission and the Gujarat Information Commission had appealed a Gujarat High Court ruling that declared that the high court regulations controlling the issuance of certified copies of documents would take precedence over the requirements of the Right to Information Act. The high court had expressly said that when a copy is requested by anybody, it must be done in conformity with the high court’s regulations on the topic.
Obtaining information from the court-Current Situation –
- For the conduct of their hearings, all high courts and the Supreme Court follow a set of regulations. The majority of them contain a regulation indicating that parties in a litigation may get copies pertaining to their case. Those who are not parties to the litigation, on the other hand, may acquire them provided they provide an affidavit outlining their reasons for wanting this information. If the court is pleased with the reasons, it will issue them.
The significance of court documents in Indian public discourse –
- A considerable number of court rulings have an impact on our daily lives. Every criminal case is a chance to hold the police responsible, just as every writ petition is an opportunity to keep the government accountable.
- Similarly, a large number of business disputes are chances to learn more about corporations and how commercial translations are carried out in the nation. In each of these instances, the pleadings filed by either party contain material that is beneficial to a variety of stakeholders, including citizens, journalists, academics, stockholders, and others, who may better enrich the public debate on the implications of these rulings.
- This is especially true in circumstances of public interest litigation, where the courts make policy based on the report of an amicus curiae or a judge-appointed expert group. These committees’ findings are not accessible to third parties, despite the fact that they may be influenced by these judgments, because they are part of the court record and so fall beyond the scope of the RTI Act. There is no need to argue for the secrecy of these documents because it is already a well-established concept that all judicial procedures must be held in open court, unless banned by law for good reasons.
- However, while it is perfectly permissible for anybody to attend in court and take notes when a lawyer tells the substance of pleadings, the courts make it as difficult as possible to get the pleadings in a straightforward manner. However, for those with more funds, obtaining copies of pleas “informally” is as simple as paying a bribe.
Facts of the case
- On April 5, 2010, Respondent No.2 filed an RTI application seeking information on two civil matters, as well as any relevant files and certified copies.
- The Public Information Officer (abbreviated “P.I.O.”) of the Gujarat High Court told respondent No.2 in a reply letter dated 29.04.2010 that in order to get requested copies, he should file an application to the Deputy Registrar either personally or through his lawyer.
- Respondent No. 2 filed an appeal with the Appellate Authority-Registrar Administration in accordance with Section 19 of the Right to Information Act of 2005. (the “RTI Act”).
- As a result, respondent No.2 filed a second appeal with the Appellant – Chief Information Commissioner (abbreviated “CIC”), and respondent No.1 was notified (i.e., High Court of Gujarat). Nonetheless, ignoring responder No.
- In its judgement dated 04.04.2013, the appellant-CIC directed P.I.O. of the Gujarat High Court to give the information requested by respondent No.2 within twenty days, citing Sections 6(2) and 22 of the RTI Act. Respondent No.1 filed a civil challenge in the High Court, contesting the CIC decision.
- While accepting the petition, the learned Single Judge issued an interim order dated October 11, 2013, directing respondent No.1 to provide the information requested by respondent No.2 within four weeks.
- The High Court approved the Letters Patent Appeal and overturned the CIC’s decision, adopting respondent No. 1’s grounds. CIC filed an appeal with the Supreme Court after being displeased with the ruling.
Issues Raised Before the Court
We carefully studied the arguments and reviewed the contested decision and papers on file. In this appeal, the following issues are raised for consideration: –
- Is there any discrepancy between Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993, which states that in order to provide a copy of a document to a third party, they must file an affidavit detailing the grounds for obtaining certified copies, and the terms of the RTI Act?
- In the absence of any conflict in the High Court Rules, whether the provisions of the RTI Act can be resorted to for getting certified copy/information where there are two machines to supply information/certified copies – one under the High Court Rules and another under the RTI Act?
Argument from the Appellant Side –
- of the RTI Act expressly states that an applicant attempting to make a request for information is not required to provide reasons for demanding the information sought, whereas third-party implementations for paper documents must be supplemented by an affidavit asserting the basis on which they are needed, and there is dissent.
- The experienced Senior Counsel for the Appellant contended that a harmonic interpretation of these two statutes is difficult due to their contradiction. In the case of a disagreement between the provisions of the RTI Act and any other legislation enacted by the Parliament, State Legislatures, or other authorities, the former must take precedence. It was contended that Section 22 of the RTI Act specifically specifies that the RTI Act’s obligations supersede any other legislation in effect at the time.
- A court has ruled that in the case of a disagreement between the terms of the RTI Act and any other law passed by the Parliament or the State Legislature, the RTI Act shall take precedence.
- The identical point was advanced by Prashant Bhushan, learned lawyer for the intervention petitioners. Section 22 of the RTI Act stipulates that the provisions of the RTI Act would take effect notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the Official Secrets Act of 1923 and any other legislation now in force or in any instrument having effect under any law other than the RTI Act.
Argument from the Respondent Side –
- Mr. Aniruddha P. Mayee, skilled counsel standing for respondent No.1-High Court of Gujarat, stated that the Gujarat High Court Rules 149 to 154 do not include any provisions that are contrary to Section 22 of the RTI Act, and that Gujarat High Court Rule 151 is in accordance with the RTI Act. According to the learned amicus, Section 22 of the RTI Act and Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993 are compatible. Mr. Aniruddha P. Mayee, experienced counsel for respondent No.1-High Court of Gujarat, argued that there is no conflict between the sections of the statute and the guidelines imposed by the High Court to give information.
- The learned amicus argued that the RTI Act’s provisions cannot be used to get access to material on the judicial side of the High Court. He stated that such information might be obtained through the Rules made by the different High Courts and the Rules framed by the High Courts under the RTIP Act.
- Section 2(f) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 explains the meaning of the term “information” which reads as under : –
- Definitions. – In this Act, unless, the context otherwise requires, –
- (f) “information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force. 
- Section 2(h) of the RTI Act defines “public authority”. The term “public authority” has been given very wide meaning in the RTI Act. Section 2(h) of the RTI Act reads as under: –
- Definitions. – In this Act, unless, the context otherwise requires, –
- (h) “public authority” means any authority or body, or institution of self-government established or constituted, —
- by or under the Constitution.
- by any other law made by Parliament.
- by any other law made by State Legislature.
- by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any—
- body owned, controlled, or substantially financed.
- (ii) non-Government Organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.
- Section 2(i) of the RTI Act defines “record” which is an inclusive definition. Section 2(j) explains “right to information”.
- Sections 2(i) and 2(j) of the RTI Act read as under: –
- 2. Definitions. – In this Act, unless, the context otherwise requires, –
- “record” includes—
- any document, manuscript, and file.
- (ii) any microfilm, microfiche, and facsimile copy of a document.
- (iii)any reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm (whether enlarged or not).
- (iv) any other material produced by a computer or any other device.
- “Right to information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to—
- inspection of work, documents, records.
- (ii)taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records.
- (iii) taking certified samples of material.
- (iv) obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.
- Section 8(1) of the RTI Act provides for exemption from disclosure of information. Right to information is subject to exceptions or exemptions stated in Section 8(1)(a) to 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
- There are ten clauses of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act. Clause (a) of sub-section (1) of Section 8 deals with information that would compromise the sovereignty or integrity of the country and like matter.
- clause (b) covers any information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court.
- clause(c) covers such matters which would cause a breach of privilege of the Parliament or the State Legislatures.
- clause (d) protects information of commercial nature and trade secrets and intellectual property.
- clause (e) exempts the disclosure of any information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.
- clause (f) prevents information being disseminated if it is received in confidence from any foreign Government.
- clause (g) exempts the disclosure of any information which endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes.
- clause (h) bars access to such information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.
- clause (i) forbids records and papers relating to deliberations of ministers and officers of the executive being made available, subject to a proviso.
- clause (j) prohibits disclosure of personal information unless there is an element of public interest involved.
Overview of the 2005 RTI Act
In 2002, the Indian Parliament passed the Freedom of Information Act. Due to a lack of notification by the national government, this Bill could not go into force after receiving the President’s assent. The Right to Information Act was adopted by the UPA administration in 2005. In order to appeal, several jurisdictions have created State Information Commissions. The Act also creates a Central Information Commission. Because it is protected under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, RTI is an implied basic right.
Access to judicial records under RTI
Everyone has access to all publicly available and existing information under the RTI Act. This is clear from a combined reading of Section 3 and the definitions of “information” and “right to information” in Clauses (f) and (j) of Section 2 of the Act. Subject to the exemptions provided forth in Section 8 of the Act, an applicant may obtain information kept by a public body in the form of data or analyzed data, abstracts, or statistics. However, where the data decided to seek is not part of a public authority’s record and is not required to be kept under any law or the public authority’s rules or regulations, the Act does not obligate the public authority to collect or collate such non-available information and then provide it to an applicant.
A citizen has the right to access information held by or under the control of any government agency. The grounds for administrative or quasi-judicial decisions must be explained to people who are affected by them by public authorities. Citizens would be unable to learn why such an opinion, recommendation, or other document was provided, particularly in circumstances involving judicial judgements. A citizen has the right to access information held by or within the jurisdiction of any public authority, and public bodies are expected to explain the reasons for their administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to individuals affected.
- The learned amicus has gathered information on the procedure for delivering certified copies of orders/judgments/documents from different High Courts. Copies are available to litigants; third-party petitions must be accompanied by affidavits.
- Copies of materials in any Civil or Criminal Proceedings, as well as copies of High Court judgements, shall not be made available to anybody other than the parties without the authorization of the Assistant Registrar. For equivalent regulations on supplying information/certified copies to other parties, see the Rules of Bombay, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madras, and several other High Courts. As previously noted, Supreme Court Rules specify that certified copies of papers or orders may be distributed to third parties only if the Court is convinced that there is a reasonable basis.
- Third-party requests for copies of documents or decisions must be accompanied by an affidavit stating the grounds for the request, unless presented by or on behalf of the Government of the Union, any State, or any foreign State.”
- It should be noted that other parties are not barred from obtaining information or certified copies of documents/judgments/orders/court proceedings. The High Court Rules only require third parties to file an application/affidavit outlining the reasons for requesting the information/certified copies. The provisions of the RTI Act and the Rules established by the High Court in exercising its power under Article 225 of the Indian Constitution are not in conflict. The Rules of the Gujarat High Court are in compliance with the provisions of the RTI Act.
- Rules, which requires a third-party requesting access to information/obtaining certified copies of documents or orders to make an application/affidavit detailing the grounds for seeking the information, is not in conflict with the RTI Act’s requirements. The challenged judgement was maintained by Atmaram N.S. Nadkarni’s High Court of Gujarat in Ahmedabad on March 13, 2014. Considering the aforesaid, the impugned judgement of the High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad in Letters Patent Appeal No.1348 of 2013 is affirmed, and these appeals are dismissed.
In view of the foregoing considerations, the impugned judgement dated 13.03.2014 issued by the High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad in Letters Patent Appeal No.1348 of 2013 is upheld, and these appeals are rejected. These regulations, in my opinion, significantly limit citizens’ unfettered access to information. It only takes a conversation with a layman about what an affidavit is and how to create one in legal language to realize how tough it is. It is time-consuming, expensive, and often discouraging. Court fee stamps must be obtained from certain locations since they are not accessible at post offices or banks. As a result, the following Supreme Court comment, in my opinion, is completely incorrect.
 The Constitution of India, 2005, Art. 19(1)(a)
 Rajagopal, Krishnadas (14 March 2019). “RTI trumps Official Secrets Act, says SC”. The Hindu. Retrieved 10 September 2021
 RTI Act,2005, Section 2(f)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 2(i)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 2(j)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 8(1)(b)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 8(1)(c)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 8(1)(d)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 8(1)(e)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 8(1)(f)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 8(1)(g)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 8(1)(h)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 8(1)(i)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 8(1)(j)
 RTI Act,2005, Section 2(f),(j)
 The Constitution of India, 1949, Art. 225
 Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court,1993