The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sub judice' It’s no bar to info act

New Delhi, Sept. 16: Fighting a case against a government official but fed up with the roadblocks in getting the necessary documents from unwilling babus' Put your faith in the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Documents that may help beef up a legal case can be sought under this legislation even if the matter is already in court, says the central information commission.

The commission — an independent panel appointed as the legislation’s custodian — has clarified that government bodies cannot deny documents to an appellant on the ground that the matter is sub judice.

Many people have been denied information just on this plea, based on a dodgy interpretation of a clause in the RTI Act.

“We believe that people fighting a legal battle have every right to be given information that will help them in the case. Government bodies have been wrong in denying information claiming the matter is sub judice,” chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has told The Telegraph.

He feels that most such cases have a strong “public interest component, which makes transparency extremely important”.

For instance, Rajeev Agarwal, a senior manager at Wipro, had decided to take on Delhi’s traffic police after being told by officials to pay the “mandatory” bribe to get his driving licence renewed.

Rajeev shot off a letter to the traffic police, asking to be told the procedure for lodging a complaint against the officials who had asked for the bribe.

After waiting in vain for a reply, he filed a case and, under the RTI Act, sought details of appointments in the traffic police.

This time he was told that since the matter was now sub judice, the traffic police were not obliged to provide him with the information.

Habibullah’s clarification has made Rajeev happy.

“I was told there would be no point applying to the central information commission as the matter was sub judice. Now I feel I can get the documents that will help me win the battle against corruption in the transport department,” he said in his sleek, wooden-panelled office overlooking the Lotus Temple.

Mahaveer Singhvi, a young Indian Foreign Service probationer, is another appellant who was denied information on the same ground.

Dismissed from service, Mahaveer is fighting a case against the Central Administrative Tribunal in Delhi High Court. He is waiting for documents relating to his dismissal from the foreign ministry.

The contentious clause —Section 8(1)(j) — of the RTI Act says: “Information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.”

It, however, does not say the converse — that information that cannot be produced before Parliament or a state legislature should not be made available to any person, as has been interpreted by government bodies.

If a matter is sub judice, documents relating to it cannot be produced in Parliament or a state legislature.

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