Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gujarat High Court asked to "proactively disclose" monitoring system set up on pending cases

Rajagopalan (right) near his office in Gandhinagar
By Our Representative
In a major order, chief information commissioner (CIC), Gujarat, D Rajagopalan, has asked the Gujarat High Court to furnish all the necessary details sought by Kalpeshkumar L Gupta, under the right to information (RTI) Act, regarding “monitoring system” set up by the High Court on cases that are being fought in courts in Gujarat. The High Court’s public information officer (PIO), who is supposed to hear RTI cases, had rejected Gupta’s plea on July 2, 2012, saying, the information sought does not come “within the definition of information under the RTI Act.”
Academic associate at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad and PhD scholar at Gujarat National Law University, Gupta had sought, in his representation dated June 22, 2012, information on “the status of pending cases, monitoring the cases of subordinate judiciary, the periodicity of such monitoring and the use of information technology system for monitoring”, to quote Rajagopalan, former chief secretary under Narendra Modi. He passed his order against the Gujarat High Court’s PIO on May 6, 2014.
The order said, “Perusing the information sought by the appellant in his application, the commission feels that the appellant is keen to know as to whether the Gujarat High Court, the supreme supervisor of all the subordinate judicial institutions in the state, has any system of monitoring the disposal of cases and whether the information technology system is used for effective monitoring of the functioning of the subordinate judiciary.”
It ruled, “The information commission feels that the information sought by the appellant is well within the ambit of RTI Act and is covered within the definition of information under section 2 of the RTI Act.” Going further, it said, the information sought by Gupta fell under “proactive disclosure” which the Gujarat High Court ordinarily should make public on its own accord, without waiting for any RTI plea.
Rajagopalan insisted, “The commission feels that such information is normally covered under section 4 of the RTI Act and made a part of the proactive disclosure of the Gujarat High Court, so that the applicants come to know about the functioning of the Gujarat High Court and also monitoring of the subordinate courts. The Commission, therefore, feels that the information sought by the appellant needs to be given by the PIO and directs the PIO to give the information to the appellant within 30 days, free of cost, as per 7(6) of the RTI Act.”
Significantly, Rajagopalan’s order comes two years after he filed an appeal with the CIC’s office against the Gujarat High Court’s rejection of a request for information. Rapagopalan’s order admits, “The appellant approached the commission vide his representation dated August 1, 2012 under section 19 of the RTI Act against the decision of the first appellate authority on his application dated June 22, 2012 seeking information under section 6 of the RTI Act.”
The order in favour of Gupta was passed despite the fact that, according to Rajagopalan, during the hearing before him, “neither the appellant nor the representative of the public authority remained present.” His earlier appeal against the Gujarat High Court, he was told to his utter dismay, could not be found was “lost”, forcing Gupta to make another appeal.
Gupta said, following his repeated attempt to find the file which contained his request, the officials under the CIC “finally they found out the file and fixed date of hearing on May 6, 2014.” He added, this happened after a he filed a complaint filed on December 5, 2013, for which he got the letter of hearing. “Appeal was filed against High Court of Gujarat on August 8, 2012... Pathetic working of Gujarat State Information Commission”, he said.
This is the second major order by Rapagopalan against the Gujarat High Court’s PIO's refusal to part with information sought by a citizen (read HERE). On November 12, 2013, Rajagopalan had asked the PIO and the appellate authority, who happens to be registrar, Gujarat High Court, to provide information regarding the number of leaves given to the court’s judges, as sought by an applicant. Social activist Indukumar Jani had sought information regarding judges’ leaves in 2010, arguing that people coming from far off areas, especially the tribal belt, often find that judges are not available on the date of hearing.
Jani was denied information citing Gujarat High Court rules for the right to information (RTI) Act, saying that anything that is not in "public domain" was exempted from granting information under the RTI. Rejecting the argument, in his ruling, Rajagopalan said, the officials of the High Court cannot act under their own RTI rules, which contradict the RTI Act. The rules of any organization are meant to the procedure to provide information works in well-oiled fashion. They cannot override provisions of the RTI Act.

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