Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Supreme Court dismisses plea for information on pending judgements under RTI Act

Delhi and Bombay high courts, however, mention on their judgements both dateson which judgement was reserved and when judgement was delivered

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday confirmed a Delhi high court verdict which said the court registry couldn’t be directed to collect information on how long judgements on cases remained pending under the Right to Information Act.

After a case is heard by a court, it reserves its verdict in the case. There is a certain time gap between this and declaration of the court’s decision or judgement. The case remains pending till the judgement is delivered.

A bench comprising justices P. C. Ghose and Amitava Roy dismissed an appeal filed by petitioner Lokesh Batra against a 7 January decision of a two-judge bench of the Delhi high court.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, representing Batra, said that this dismissal showed the apex court had one set of rules for other public authorities and another for itself.

On 7 January, the Delhi high court ruled that the Supreme Court was not required to maintain records of the duration for which a court reserved its verdict on the direction of the Central Information Commission. In effect, it reversed an August 2011 ruling of the CIC which asked for this information to be collected.

The high court said that under the RTI Act, only existing information kept with the public authority could be asked for. There was no provision for a direction to collect and collate information in a manner sought by the RTI applicant.

Venkatesh Nayak, a New Delhi-based RTI expert associated with Access to Information Programme of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, called the development “extremely unfortunate".

“No new information is being sought. We just said enable a search function of reserved judgements. It’s extremely unfortunate that the two-judge bench of the high court hasn’t looked at the importance of Section 4(1)(a) of the RTI Act which says all information is required to maintain its records in a manner which facilitates the right to information," Nayak said, who was involved with the case before the single judge of the high court.

At present, it is impossible to know how many judgements have been reserved by the Supreme Court unless one is directly involved with the case, Nayak added. “In a case, Shrimati Selvi v. State of Karnataka, a case about brain mapping and polygraph tests, judgement was reserved for four years. This information will have no adverse impact on the independence of the judiciary. It’s just a question of transparency."

Batra, the original RTI applicant, had sought information regarding how long judgements were reserved by the court for 2007-09. Since this information was not readily available, the CIC directed the apex court’s central public information officer to collate this information in 2011. The Supreme Court appealed against this order before a single judge of the Delhi high court, who said that while the information for 2007-09 was not required to be given, the registry should collect this information for the future. However, on appeal before the two-judge bench, this was overturned.

Interestingly, Delhi and Bombay high courts mention on their judgements both dates—on which the judgement was reserved and when judgement was delivered.

Over the last few months, the Supreme Court declared that information on banks collected by the Reserve Bank of India and entrance tests for state public service commissions would be available under the RTI Act, widening the scope for transparency.

However, in July last year, the court refused to entertain a plea seeking details on medical expenses of judges.

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