Chief Information Commissioner v. High Court of Gujarat And Another (C.A. NO(S).1966-1967 OF 2020)
Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Chief Information Commissioner v. High Court of Gujarat And Another
CIVIL APPEAL NO(S).1966-1967 OF 2020
Supreme Court of India
Full Bench – Hon’ble Ms. Justice R. Banumathi (author), Hon’ble Mr. Justice A.S. Bopanna, Hon’ble Mr. Justice Hrishikesh Roy
ALSO KNOWN AS
POINT OF CONSIDERATION
Whether a third party has the right to apply for certified copies to be obtained from the High Court by invoking the provisions of Right to Information Act without resorting to Gujarat High Court Rules prescribed by the High Court or not?
An RTI application dated 05.04.2010 was filed by respondent No.2 seeking information pertaining to two civil cases along with all relevant documents and certified copies. In reply letter dated 29.04.2010, Public Information Officer (for short as “P.I.O.”), Gujarat High Court informed respondent No.2 that for obtaining required copies he should make an application personally or through his advocate to the Deputy Registrar. Additionally, it was stated by the P.I.O. that as respondent No.2 was 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 would be supplied the certified copies of the documents as per Rules 149 to 154 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993.
Being aggrieved respondent No.2 preferred an appeal before the Appellate Authority-Registrar Administration under Section 19 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (for short “RTI Act”). The appeal was dismissed vide order dated 04.08.2010 on the ground that for obtaining certified copies, the alternative efficacious remedy was already available under the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993 and that under the provisions of RTI Act, no certified copies can be provided.
Consequently, respondent No.2 then filed a second appeal before the Appellant - Chief Information Commissioner (for short “CIC”) and notice was sent to respondent No.1 (i.e., High Court of Gujarat). Respondent No.1 filed its response reiterating the position that there are provisions under Rules 149 to 154 of the Gujarat High Court Rules for anybody who wants to obtain the certified copies as per which application/affidavit should be filed stating the grounds for which the documents are required and with requisite court fee stamps. However, dismissing the contention of respondent No. 1 and relying upon Sections 6(2) and 22 of the RTI Act, the appellant-CIC vide its order dated 04.04.2013 directed P.I.O. of the Gujarat High Court to provide the information sought by respondent No.2 within twenty days.
Challenging the order of CIC, respondent No.1 filed a civil application before the High Court. The learned Single Judge, while admitting the petition, passed an interim order dated 11.10.2013 directing respondent No.1 to provide the information sought by respondent No.2 within four weeks.
Being aggrieved by the interim order, respondent No.1 preferred letters patent appeal before the Division Bench contending that as per the High Court Rules, if the certified copy is sought by a person who is not a party to the litigation, his application must be accompanied by an affidavit stating therein the purpose for which he requires the certified copies. The High Court allowed the Letters Patent Appeal and set aside the order of the CIC while accepting the contentions of respondent No.1. CIC being aggrieved by the said order preferred an appeal in the Supreme Court.
ISSUES RAISED & RATIO
Whether Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993 stipulating that for providing copy of documents to the third parties, they are required to file an affidavit stating the reasons for seeking certified copies, suffers from any inconsistency with the provisions of RTI Act?
It was the contention of the appellants that Section 6(2) of the RTI Act specifically provides that an applicant making a request for information shall not be required to give reasons for requesting the information sought and whereas under the Gujarat High Court Rules, applications made by third parties seeking copies of the documents shall be accompanied by an affidavit stating the grounds on which they are required and there is direct inconsistency between the provisions of the RTI Act and the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993.
The court held that the access to the information or certified copies of the documents/judgments/orders/court proceedings are not denied to the third parties, which is the primary purpose of enacting RTI Act. Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules stipulating a third party to have access to the information/obtaining the certified copies of the documents or orders requires to file an application/affidavit stating the reasons for seeking the information, is not inconsistent with the provisions of the RTI Act; but merely lays down a different procedure as the practice or payment of fees, etc. for obtaining information.
The appellant counsel further submitted that the High Court Rules have been framed in exercise of the powers under Article 225 of the Constitution of India which would be subject to any other law and the non-obstante clause in Section 22 of the RTI Act shows that the provisions of the RTI Act would override the High Court Rules.
Regarding this contention, the court held the non-obstante clause of the RTI Act does not mean an implied repeal of the High Court Rules and Orders framed under Article 225 of the Constitution of India; but only has an overriding effect in case of inconsistency. Since it has been already established that there is no case of inconsistency between the High Court Rules and RTI Act, the former is not overridden.
When there are two machineries to provide information/certified copies – one under the High Court Rules and another under the RTI Act, in the absence of any inconsistency in the High Court Rules, whether the provisions of RTI Act can be resorted to for obtaining certified copy/information?
The court reiterated that if any information can be accessed through the mechanism provided under another statute, then the provisions of the RTI Act cannot be resorted to as there is absence of the very basis for invoking the provisions of RTI Act, namely, lack of transparency. In other words, the provisions of RTI Act are not to be resorted to if the same are not actuated to achieve transparency. In the present case the information to be accessed/certified copies on the judicial side to be obtained through the mechanism provided under the High Court Rules, the provisions of the RTI Act shall not be resorted to.
IMPORTANT CASES REFERRED
Central Public Information Officer, Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agrawal 2019 (16) SCALE 40
Registrar, Supreme Court of India v. RS Misra (2017) 244 DLT 179
Karnataka Information Commissioner v. State Public Information Officer and another WP(C) No.9418 of 2008
R.S. Raghunath v. State of Karnataka (1992) 1 SCC 335
The author is a LL.B Graduate of University School of Law and Legal Studies, GGSIPU, New Delhi.