The Delhi High Court in a recent judgement upheld the order of the Central Information Commission directing the Legislative Department of the Government of India to upload all the laws enacted by Parliament as amended from time to time.
The Delhi High Court, in a recent judgement has upheld an order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) directing the Legislative Department, Government of India to upload on the official website all laws enacted by Parliament as amended from time to time. It has also upheld the CIC’s direction to the Government to examine the functionality of the official email addresses of officers of the Department.
Background to the RTI
A law student at the National Law School of India, University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, could not find the complete version of a law passed by Parliament with all the latest amendments online on the website of the Legislative Department, Government of India. He then submitted an RTI application to the Legislative Department and he claimed that the email bounced back. This application was filed in 2012. He approached the CIC through a complaint in September, 2015.
The Law student wanted to study the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1972 from the website, but he couldn’t. Though he could find the Bare Act from the India Code website, it was impossible to read as the PDF of Bare Act was not at all formatted. The sentences were not continuous and it was so confusing and difficult to correlate content and make out even a single sentence. He contended that as a student of law, for his course work he required to refer to several Bare Acts to ascertain the correct position of law, but India Code website is not in a position to help the students of law in any way.
What did the CIC say?
Disposing of the case, the CIC pointed out:
“It is the minimum responsibility of state to provide updated information about amendments, which will go in long way in helping people. The access to law is not just a requirement of Law student and law researchers, but a necessity of all citizens. For instance, the Parliament by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, has amended section 100 of Indian Penal Code, which provide a right of private defence of body even to the extent of causing death in case of acid attack. Many men or women are not even aware of self defence right that they can even kill assailant if the later is attacking to kill, rape or throw acid, or cause grievous hurt etc.”
The CIC directed the Legislative Department as follows:
“11. The Commission directs the respondent authority, Legislative Department to inform the complainant and the Commission as to what action has been taken including details of the programme of updation, the possible date of its completion, expenditure involved, personnel employed etc. The Commission also recommends the department to recognise urgency and significance of the issue, expedite the process, allocate more fund to employ more personnel and complete the process of updation as soon as possible.
12. The Commission also directs the respondent authority to examine the functionality of the email ID in view of the Complainant’s claim that most of the email IDs have failed. The Legislative Department also should have perfect RTI filing system and answer mechanism.”
Despite the fact that the RTI was filed in 2012 and was resolved by the CIC only in November 2015, the CIC directed the Legislative Dept. to pay Rs. 10,000/- as compensation to the NLSIU as an exemplary measure. The Legislative Dept. challenged the CIC’s order before the Delhi High Court.
What did the Delhi High Court say?
The Delhi High Court refused to interfere with the directions of the CIC. Upholding both CIC directives relating to RTI, the Court said:
“3. In the present writ petition, it has been averred that the respondent never filed an RTI application in the prescribed form and the requisite fee. It is also stated that the respondent did not file the first appeal and hence the second appeal could not have been entertained by the CIC.
- This Court is not an appellate Court of the CIC. Technical and procedural arguments cannot be allowed to come in the way of substantial justice. The directions given by the CIC in the impugned order are not only fair and reasonable but also promote the concept of rule of law. It is unfortunate that the petitioner did not take the initiative on its own to upload the latest amended bare Acts.
- Public can be expected to follow the law only if law is easily accessible ‘at the click of a button’. In fact, as rightly pointed out by the CIC, the RTI Act itself mandates the Government to place the texts of enactments in public domain.”
The High Court upheld the CIC’s order for token compensation saying:
“6. This Court also take judicial notice of the fact that in challenging the imposition of costs of Rs.10,000/-, the Government of India would have spent more money in filing the present writ petition. Consequently, this Court is of the view that the costs of Rs.10,000/- which was directed to be paid by the CIC, should be recovered from the salary of the Government officials who authorized the filing of the present writ petition.”
What are the implications of the Court’s judgement?
This landmark judgement, thanks to the intervention of the law student who ultimately had little use for the information sought, by the time the case was decided, is significant for multiple reasons:
- It makes it mandatory for the Government of India to publish the amended version of laws as and when amendments are incorporated. In India this is not common practice at either the Central or the State level. It is very welcome that the government has now been reminded of its duty to publish laws in their updated form and not piece meal – main enactment in one place and later amendments as separate documents.
- Another major problem that plagues access to laws is the non-availability of rules and regulations made under a legislation by the competent authority. While texts of laws enacted by Parliament are available on official websites, rules and regulations made under them are not easily available. Perhaps proactive disclosure of rules and regulations will require another RTI intervention of this kind. The situation with laws enacted by State legislatures is much worse in many States. Let alone the text of rules and regulations, often it is difficult to find the texts of the main enactments also.
- The Delhi High Court’s order is a step forward regarding grant of compensation under the RTI Act. Until this judgement came out, the position was that the RTI applicant had to demonstrate the nature of loss or detriment suffered due to non-provision of access to information under the law. However, now the Delhi High Court has held that compensation may be paid where the costs involved in challenging such orders would be much more than saying the compensation amount.
The short but insightful order of the Delhi High Court contributes to the expansion of the regime of transparency established by the RTI Act.
Featured image: High Court of Delhi