Searching for orders passed by Constitution Bench of SC using RTI
The appellant filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with the Supreme Court (SC) of India seeking details about the orders passed by Constitution Benches of the Supreme Court since 1950. He also indicated a format in which the desired information was to be given. The Public Information Officer (PIO) referred him to the website of the Supreme Court stating that since the orders of the Supreme Court were already available in the public domain they must be accessed from the website and could not be provided under the RTI Act.
During the hearing before the Central Information Commission (CIC), the appellant pointed out that the Supreme Court website did not contain all the orders passed by the Court. The respondents pointed out that all orders passed by the Supreme Court were uploaded in the website leaving aside those which were expressly forbidden from publication. The appellant referred to an order passed by the CIC on 10 September 2009 in [CIC/SG/C/2009/000702] and submitted that he should have the choice to access the desired information in the manner he wanted and not the way the public authority would like him to. He also pointed out that all orders passed by the Supreme Court from time to time were not reported and he was mainly interested in those orders of the Constitution Benches which had not been reported. The respondents submitted that the orders passed by the Constitution Benches of the Supreme Court from time to time were not maintained separately and that these could be collected only by scrutinising all the orders passed since 1950 i. e. for a period of nearly 60 years. They submitted that this would be an extremely time consuming task. The appellant suggested for an inspection of the relevant records to which the respondents submitted that such inspection could be allowed only under rule 12 of the Supreme Court Rules 1966.
View of CIC
The Central Information Commission (CIC) observed that the information has been sought in a particular format and the Supreme Court does not maintain its orders in this format. The period for which the information has been sought is also very long. The PIO will have to scrutinise all the orders passed since 1950 in order to separate those which the appellant needs, which appears to be an impossible task and would divert the resources of the Supreme Court. The CIC held that the PIO cannot be compelled to undertake such an exercise to arrive at the desired information.
The Commission agreed with the contention of the respondents regarding the inspection and held that the Supreme Court has laid down the procedure for inspection of judicial records including the orders passed by the Court. These Rules have been framed by the Supreme Court in exercise of powers vested in it under Article 145 of the Constitution of India. The overriding effect of the Right to Information (RTI) Act does not extend to the Constitution of India and thus the Rules framed by the Supreme Court of India and the High Courts have to be followed if the citizens want copies of judicial records. Commission further held that even if the permission could be granted to inspect the relevant records the sheer size of the records i. e. the orders passed over a period of 60 years, the inspection itself would disproportionately divert the resources of the Supreme Court as it would have to deploy some officials to supervise the inspection. Thus, the desired information cannot be disclosed either in hardcopy form or by way of inspection.
The Commission further observed that the Supreme Court website contains the orders passed by it from time to time in a chronological order. The citizens desirous of finding about any specific classes of orders would have to search through the entire bulk of the orders to locate the specific orders they want. If it would be possible to build such features into the website so that it will be possible to classify the orders based on various criteria it would help the public greatly. The Commission noted that the PIO could bring this to the notice of the competent authority in the Supreme Court to consider if it would be possible and practicable to redesign the website in this manner.
Citation: Mr. Tarun Jain v. Supreme Court of India in File No.CIC/SM/A/2011/002611
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2012/CIC/638
Click here to view original RTI order of Court / Information Commission