“One wonders, what queries other than relating to its primary functioning of the administration of justice could be put to the PIO of a Court of Law.”
Taking note of some ‘exemption’ provisions of Delhi District Court (Right to Information) Rules, the Central Information Commission observed that they are not in conformity with the Right to Information Act and have orchestrated Counter RTI effect.
Central Information Commissioner Yashovardhan Azad particularly took note of following provisions of the Delhi District Court (Right to Information) Rules.
- 7(xiii): Any other reason which may justify not providing the information to the applicant. (Ground for not providing the information sought)
- 9 (x): No information can be provided relating to any judicial proceeding under this Act.
It said: “The Commission takes note of the fact that while the parent statute ie. The RTI Act, enumerates only 10 exceptions to the general Right to receive information, the Delhi District Court (Right to Information) Rules adds further 13 ‘non-statutory exceptions’ if the information sought related to Delhi District Courts. Clause (xiii) of Rule 7, is an overreaching clause which can deny information on “Any other reason”. It is couched as a residuary ‘disabling’ provision which can accommodate ‘any other reason’ justifying non-disclosure of information. Such an open-ended exception cannot be carved out while enacting a Subordinate legislation. Similarly, Rule 9(x) of the Delhi District Court (Right to Information) Rules also runs counter to the mandate of Section 8(1)(b) as the former declares all information relating to judicial proceedings as excepted from disclosure whereas RTI Act nowhere contemplates such a blanket exemption of an entire range of information.”
On Rule 9(x), the commission observed: “One wonders, what queries other than relating to its primary functioning of the administration of justice could be put to the PIO of a Court of Law. If such a blanket ban on all accessible judicial information is extended ipso facto without the express requirement of explicit ban by a Court of law as enumerated under Section 8(1)(b) of the RTI Act; it would be nothing short of exempting an entire pillar of democracy from the sunshine law.”
The commission also said that sterling character of accountability, fearlessness and ability to set moral benchmarks is the hallmark of Indian Judiciary. Referring to some decisions of the Apex court, it also said: “The Commission in spirit of the aforesaid observations of the highest Court of the land, implores the public authority i.e., District & Sessions Judge, New Delhi District to abjure the use of Rule 7 of the Delhi District Court (Right to Information) Rules for not being in conformity with the RTI Act 2005.”
The commission made these observations while disposing an appeal filed by one Harish Lamba, whose RTI application seeking information related to the Court presided over by a particular judge of Patiala House Courts and regarding case represented by advocates by a particular law firm before the aforesaid judicial officer, was rejected. On his appeal to First Appellate Authority, it said that the information sought is exempt under Rule 7(vii) & (ix) of Delhi District Court (Right to Information) Rule 2008 framed by Hon’ble High Court of Delhi because the information sought is non-existent and it amounts to analyzing the information for the applicant which does not form part of any existing record of this information.
Rejecting the contentions of PIO, Delhi District Court, the commission said: “Firstly, it altogether wrong to assume that the information sought is nonexistent. The information sought exists as vouched by public interface of case management database hosted on the website of public authority. Secondly, it is probable that the information may not be readily available in the form sought, however, this alone is not a ground to deny information. The RTI Act acknowledges change of form of information in course of disclosure. Section 7(9) of the RTI Act provides for furnishing information in the manner sought as far as practicable. This implies that the PIO cannot shy away from his statutory duty of furnishing information in the form sought. Only exception to the rule is that when the disclosure may involve expending of substantial resources of public authority; the requirement can be dispended with but that will still enjoin the PIO to furnish information in the form as maintained.”