11 Oct 2008, 0000 hrs IST, Abhinav Garg ,TNN
NEW DELHI: Criticising Delhi High Court (HC) for withholding a copy of cause list to a Right to Information (RTI) seeker, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that a "cause list'' prepared by court administration for listing of cases is a public document, which a citizen has a right to "inspect.''
Asking HC to supply copy of cause lists of a certain period to a lawyer who was denied the same, a bench headed by Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah held that once this list reaches the court master to record next dates of hearing and other case related details, it becomes a public document and falls under the purview of RTI. "A citizen exercising his right under RTI Act becomes entitled to inspect the cause list, take notes, extracts or certified copies,'' CIC said.
HC on its part had refused to part with this detail because it demanded a reason from advocate Manish Khanna on why he wanted this information, saying "no reason was given as to why such information is required.''
The CIC took a dim view of denial on this ground and in its order released on Friday, noted, "The CPIO has clearly overstepped the limits of his powers by demanding the reasons from the appelant for his seeking the information. He is cautioned to refrain from doing so.'' The apex RTI body pointed out that RTI provision makes it explicitly clear that any applicant seeking information "shall not be required to give any reason for requesting information'' and faulted HC on that count.
CIC was hearing an appeal by Khanna against denial of information and was constrained to record its dismay with the manner in which HC blocked copies of cause list from being provided to Khanna. "It will be very unfortunate if information was available on the date it was sought and has been destroyed thereafter and a citizen is deprived of his right to seek information,'' the bench, also comprising information commissioners A N Tiwari and O P Kejariwal added.
Defending its stand, HC in fact claimed that cause list is "transitory and is destroyed...it is just for convenience of court staff.'' The judicial authority insisted there was nothing in HC rules which imposes any obligation to maintain such a list and court wasn't obliged to keep such a list. Interestingly, at the same time HC admitted that list is made available on the internet for a few days.
Khanna had sought the cause list as part of his research work to understand if there was any procedure for granting early hearings to accused in certain cases. "The purpose is not to get information alone but to ensure RTI Act is not rendered infructuous by inaction of HC...the information would expose that ordinary people languished behind bars in Delhi jails, sometimes for over a decade - unheard in trial or in appeal - while rich and influential area heard on priority,'' Khanna alleged in his appeal, seeking more information on procedure for early hearing. However, on HC's stand that this fell under judicial functioning of HC and therefore outside the ambit of RTI, the Commission on Friday gave it 20 days time to come up with written arguments on this issue.