The Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court has refused to disclose the details of a report submitted by former SC Judge, Justice AK Patnaik, on his probe into the “larger conspiracy” behind the sexual harassment allegations levelled against the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi, reported LiveLaw.
An RTI application was filed by journalist Saurav Das seeking details of the said report, and submitting that no public authority can choose to deny information after the enactment of the RTI Act, as per a Scroll.in report.
He also referred to a decision of the Central Information Commission in KK Agnihotri v. Ministry of Communication & IT, where it was held, “If the desired information is kept in a sealed cover and it is not otherwise covered by any of the exemption provisions, then it must be disclosed after opening the cover”, reported LiveLaw.
But the Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court responded, “The nature of information sought is exempt under Section 8(1)(b), 8(1)(j) and Section 11(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005”, according to some media reports.
Section 8(1)(b) exempts disclosure of information which has been “expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court.”
Section 8(1)(j) covers information which relates to personal information, the disclosure of which can breach an individual’s privacy. Section 11 exempts disclosure of third-party information.
In addition to this, the Public Information Officer said that Das was not a party to the judicial proceedings and information with respect to any judicial matter may be sought only by moving an application under the Supreme Court Rules, 2013, as per a LiveLaw report.
On February 18, the Supreme Court Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian had closed the case registered by it in 2019 to probe the alleged conspiracy against the independence of judiciary as sexual harassment charges were levelled against Ranjan Gogoi.
An enquiry panel headed by former top court judge, Justice AK Patnaik submitted a report stating that a conspiracy behind the sexual harassment allegations cannot be “ruled out”. According to LiveLaw, the report also stated that certain stances taken by former CJI Gogoi during his tenure could have led to the sexual misconduct allegations. The report also referred to an Intelligence Bureau input that several persons were unhappy with Justice Gogoi for driving the Assam-NRC process.
The Bench observed that there is no point in prolonging the case as acquiring electronic evidence is unlikely, and disposed of the matter. The court said, “The veracity of the allegations levelled by lawyer Utsav Singh Bains could not be verified completely due to the limited access of records and other collaborative material.”
Utsav Bains had told the court that he was allegedly approached by some ‘fixers’ to file a false complaint against the former CJI for Rs. 1.5 crores. In May, 2019, a three-judge committee cleared Ranjan Gogoi’s name in the case and concluded that there was no substance in the allegations made by the employee of the Supreme Court.