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'Judicial proceedings beyond purview of RTI'
September 26, 2007 18:27 IST
Last Updated: September 26, 2007 18:28 IST
In a landmark decision, the Central Information Commission has ruled that judicial proceedings of all courts and tribunals are beyond the purview of the Right to Information Act.
"A judicial authority must function with total independence and freedom. Should it be found that an action initiated under the RTI Act impinges upon the authority of that judicial body, the Commission will not authorise the use of the RTI Act for any such disclosure requirement," a full bench headed by Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said in its 22-page order.
Terming any intrusion pertaining to judicial work as "unnecessary", the bench noted "The Judiciary is independent and all judicial authorities including all courts and tribunals must work independently and without any interference in so far as their judicial work is concerned".
The order was in response to an application of Delhi-based chartered accountant Rakesh Kumar Gupta, who had sought copies of minutes as maintained by the members of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal bench, in an income tax assessment case of Escorts Limited and had also asked for inspection of the case records.
The matter, which was taken up with the CIC following ITAT's denial of the information, was contested by the tribunal on the ground that as per relevant rules of the Income Tax Act, such copies of its orders could only be provided to the concerned assesses. The tribunal further contended that Escorts Limited had "strongly objected" to such inspection of the records which contained their IT assessment details.
"It would not be appropriate for the Commission or any entity functioning as part of the RTI regime to pronounce on the disclosure of a given set of information, if it is found that under another law (such as Income Tax Act), this disclosure function is exercisable as part of the judicial function by a judicial authority, such as the ITAT," the bench noted.
Dismissing the applicant's plea that anyone seeking inspection of the records should be allowed on payment of prescribed fees, the Commission said that the RTI Act gave a "total discretion" to the court or the tribunal to decide as to what should be allowed for disclosure. The Commission, which has remanded the case back to the President and Appellate Authority of ITAT to determine the issue of disclosure of the information, has made it aptly clear that any remedy, if available, to the applicant shall only be under the Income Tax law.
Discussing at length the differences between the RTI Act and procedures as prescribed by High Court or tribunals in providing information, the bench observed "neither provision prohibits or forbids dissemination of information or grant of copies of records". While there were differences concerning their practices or payments of fees, there was no "inherent inconsistency" between the two provisions.
Notably, in a recent order, the Commission had also noted that Supreme Court Rules on providing information were not inherently inconsistent with the Right to Information Act.