New Delhi, Jan. 6: Clarifying that the right to information is subject to “reasonable restrictions”, the Supreme Court has held that the government need not make public any report relating to nuclear installations in the country.
The judges listed nine areas (see chart) where “reasonable restrictions” could be imposed to deny information. The court said the restrictions are applicable to the media, too. “Right to information is certainly a fundamental right, but it is subject to reasonable restrictions,” a bench of Chief Justice V.. Khare and Justice S.B. Sinha said today.
The court dismissed a petition of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) which sought a directive to the government to disclose the contents of a report of the Atomic Energy Regulation Board (AERB).
The petition was filed against the backdrop of charges that nuclear installations and atomic power stations across the country were endangering the life of people living in their vicinity.
Former AERB chairman A. Gopalakrishnan was also a petitioner. He contended that “serious nuclear accidents” could take place at Narora plant in Uttar Pradesh and Kaita in Karnataka.
The apex court upheld a judgment of Bombay High Court, which, too, had dismissed the petition on the ground that the AERB report or any information relating to nuclear installations in the country did not come in the purview of the fundamental right to information.
Echoing this, the apex court bench said that “every fundamental right in the Indian Constitution is subject to reasonable restriction” and the only test was “how reasonable” such a restriction was imposed by the government of the day.
The court upheld attorney general Soli Sorabjee’s contention that the AERB report would reveal to “enemies” data containing “inventories, spent fuel, waste, etc, facilitating the calculation of the country’s nuclear programme potential”. Its contents, therefore, should not be revealed even in the name of “fundamental right to information”, he added.
The PUCL said “news reports of safety violations and defects in nuclear installations and power plants across the country, including the ones at Trombay and Tarapur, are alarming as nuclear degradation is feared” and, hence, the report should be made public.
“Right to information is a fundamental right and citizens should have access to the report” to know about the danger, it added.
The judges agreed that the “right to information is a fundamental right” and a “natural right flowing from the concept of democracy” but the “right to speech and publish does not carry with it unrestrictive right to gather information”.
The “horror of nuclear holocaust was taught to the human race when the American bomber, Enola Gay, from the clouds emptied its bowels on Hiroshima,” according to the Chief Justice of India, who wrote the judgment for the bench.
But he added that “in a civil democratic society, every right is a regulated right” and denied access to the AERB report.