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The Fiduciary Relationship Should Protect the Beneficiary and Not Promote Self-Interest: Central Information Commission

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The appellant filed a Right to Information application seeking certain clarifications and a certified copy of Demi Official (D.O.) letters dated 03.10.2014 & 16.03.2017. Dissatisfied with the reply received from the Public Information Officer, the appellant filed a first appeal dated 12.06.2018. The FAA, Supreme Court of India vide order dated 10.07.2018 upheld the reply of the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO). After feeling dissatisfied and aggrieved, the appellant approached the Commission with the present second appeal.



The appellant relied on a letter no. 90/CPIO/HCLB/36/2018 dated 13.04.2018, which he received from the Central Public Information Officer, Allahabad High Court in response to his RTI application dated 12.02.2018 which referred to the D.O. letters of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India. However, the information has been wrongly denied by the Central Public Information Officer u/s. 8(1)(g), 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The issue in this present case is whether the copies of D.O. letters exchanged between the then Chief Justice of India and Allahabad High Court Judge are exempt from disclosure u/s. 8(1)(e), 8(1)(g) and 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005. The Commission directed the PIO to file a written submission to the Commission explaining why the D.O. letters of Hon’ble CJI should not be provided/disclosed to the appellant under the provisions of RTI Act, 2005. The court gave an interim decision stating based on the written submission received from PIO-Supreme Court of India, the Commission shall pronounce its final decision in the present matter. 


Arguments Before the Court 

The petitioner contended that the information had been wrongly denied by the Central Public Information Officer u/s. 8(1)(g), 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The respondent contended that the contents of the said application are not specific. He stated that the D.O. letters were related to the personal opinion of CJI which was forwarded to the Allahabad High Court which was exchanged in confidence and informal in nature. During the hearing, the respondent informed the Commission that according to Article 235 of the Indian Constitution, High Court is vested with the administrative power to control/supervise their subordinate courts and the Supreme Court does not have any such power. There is a fiduciary relationship between the High Court and the Supreme Court and this kind of correspondence especially D.O. letters between the two judges are in a fiduciary capacity and the information related to such correspondence cannot be provided u/s. 8(1)(e), 8(1)(j) and 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act. He further informed the Commission that according to the procedural law, the appellant should have challenged the CPIO’s reply before the concerned FAA of Allahabad High Court. However, the appellant chose to file the First Appeal in the Apex Court instead of following the due procedural law.


Court’s Observation

The Commission noted that the Apex court decision cited by the respondents in the case of CPIO, Supreme Court vs. Subhash Chandra Agarwal, which dealt extensively with the aspects of the fiduciary relationship, right to privacy, confidentiality, judicial independence and information held by the public authority. The court stated that the fiduciary relationship casts positive obligations and demands that the fiduciary should protect the beneficiary and not promote personal self-interest. In the present case, the Demi Official letters sought by the appellant were shared by the then Chief Justice of India with Chief Justices of all High Courts, including Allahabad High Court, in a fiduciary capacity. Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act implies that information provided to a person in his fiduciary relationship shall not be disclosed unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information. The Commission also discussed the ‘overwhelming public interest’ stating it can be the only reason for disclosure of information. In the present case, the D.O. sent by the then Chief Justice of India were marked as “confidential” information and sent to the Chief Justices of all High Courts to be held by the respective High Courts, under the obligation of confidentiality. 

Court’s Decision 

The Commission found that the information shared through these letters were intended to be utilised exclusively by the Chief Justices of High Courts for bringing about improvisation in the judicial system. The Commission also observed that the D.O. letters were relevant to the appellant’s case because his complaint dated 13.11.2017 was consigned to the record room by the then Administrative Judge, Azamgarh citing that the complaint was not in accordance with the D.O. letters. Therefore, in the interest of justice, it was deemed appropriate that the matter shall be transferred by the CPIO, Supreme Court to the Allahabad High Court for providing an accurate response stating clearly the deficiency in the complaint dated 13.11.2017, which led to it being consigned to the record room. 


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