Chief Information Commissioner V. High Court of Gujarat & Another
CIVIL APPEAL NO(S).1966-1967 OF 2020
An RTI application dated 05.04.2010 was filed by respondent No. 2 seeking information pertaining to the cases – Civil Application No. 5517 of 2003 and Civil Application No. 8072 of 1989- along with all relevant documents and certified copies. In reply, vide letter dated 29.04.2010, Public Information Officer, Gujarat High Court duly informed the respondent No. 2 that for obtaining required copies, he should make an application personally or through his advocate on affixing court fees stamp of Rs. 3/- with requisite fee to the "Deputy Registrar". It was further stated that as respondent No. 2 is not a party to the said proceedings, as per Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993, his application should be accompanied by an affidavit stating the grounds for which the certified copies are required and on making such application, he will be supplied the certified copies of the documents as per Rules 149 to 154 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993.
Subsequently, respondent No. 2 preferred an appeal bearing no. 84 of 2010 before the Appellate Authority-Registrar Administration under section 19 of the Act, which was dismissed vide an order dated 04.08.2010, on the ground that for obtaining certified copies, the alternative efficacious remedy is already available under the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993 and that under the provisions of RTI Act, no certified copies can be provided.
Respondent No. 2 then filed the second appeal No. 1437 of 2010-11 before the Appellant-Chief Information Commissioner and relying upon sections 6(2) and 22 of the RTI Act, the appellant-Chief Information Commissioner vide its order dated 04.04.2013 directed Public Information Officer of the Gujarat High Court to provide the information sought by respondent No. 2 within twenty days.
Subsequently, Special Civil Application No. 7880 of 2013 was filed before the high court, wherein the learned single judge, passed an interim order dated 11.10.2013 directing the Respondent No. 1 to provide the information sought by Respondent No. 2 within four weeks.
Being aggrieved by the interim order, respondent No. 1-High Court of Gujarat preferred Letters Patent Appeal No. 1348 of 2013 before the Division Bench, which set aside the order of the Chief Information Commissioner by observing that when a copy is demanded by any person, the same has to be in accordance with the Rules of the High Court on the subject. The Hon'ble bench understanding that the issue at hand concerned all the high courts, requested Mr. Atmaram N. S Nadkarni acted as amicus curiae.
Points For Consideration Before The Hon'ble Bench:
The Hon'ble bench observed that 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. The Hon'ble bench while analyzing the procedure in respect of grant of the certified copies of pleadings, judgments, documents, decrees or orders, deposition of the witnesses, etc. to the parties to the litigation and also to the third parties, discussed the present scenario, before the hon'ble Supreme Court and the High Courts. The Hon'ble bench observed:
I. Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner and Others - wherein the hon'ble Supreme Court observed that, the details disclosed by a person in his Income Tax Return are personal information which stand exempted from disclosure, unless it involves a larger public interest which justifies the disclosure of such information.
ii. Institute of Chartered Accountants of India v. Shaunak H. Satya and Others - the Hon'ble Supreme Court observed that, object of the RTI Act is to harmonize the conflicting public interests, that is, ensuring transparency to bring in accountability and containing corruption on one hand, and at the same time ensuring that the revelation of information, in actual practice, does not harm or adversely affect other public interests which include efficient functioning of the governments, optimum use of limited fiscal resources and preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information.
iii. The Registrar Supreme Court of India v. R S Misra, wherein the hon'ble Delhi High Court has held that, once any information can be accessed through the mechanism provided under another statute, then the provisions of the RTI Act cannot be resorted to.
Non-Obstante Clause Of Section 22 & Repealing Clause Of Section 31 Of The RTI Act:
The Hon'ble bench dwelled upon sections 22 and 31 of the RTI ACT and clarified that, in the non-obstante clause of Section 22 of the RTI Act, three categories have been mentioned - (i) the Official Secrets Act, 1923; or (ii) any other law for the time being in force; and (iii) any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act. In case of inconsistency of any law with the provisions of the Right to Information Act, overriding effect has been given to the provisions of the Right to Information Act. Further, Section 31 of the RTI Act which is a repealing clause repeals only the Freedom of Information Act, 2002 and no other laws. The Act has not repealed the Official Secrets Act or any of the laws providing disclosure of information. Therefore, all those enactments including Official Secrets Act, 1923, continue to stay in force thereby implying that the RTI Act has an overriding effect to the extent that they are inconsistent.