Experts CornerTariq Ahmad Khan

“If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.” ~Kahlil Gilbran

Confidentiality is considered as one of the key reasons why parties choose to go for arbitration for settlement of their disputes as they do not want their disputes to be a topic of public discussion. Considering the detailed documents and information that parties exchange in an arbitration, the idea is to protect the sensitive information, trade secrets, intellectual property which may be subject-matter of an arbitration as its disclosure may result in irreparable loss. For the foregoing reason, arbitration proceedings are kept confidential. But is confidentiality practically possible? What is the legal basis of confidentiality? What is its scope and what are the implications if it is breached by a party? In this article the author will shed light on Section 42-A which was introduced by the amendment of 2019 to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

Background

Section 75 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 states that the parties shall keep confidential all matters relating to the conciliation. However, the said provision is not applicable to arbitration proceedings and applies only to conciliation proceedings. Even though there was no statutory mandate in the 1996 Act, there was an implied duty of confidentiality for various reasons including protection of sensitive information or intellectual property, etc., reputation of parties in public, protection from potential claims in similar matters, no intervention of unrelated parties, etc.

In 2019, for the first time, a provision relating to confidentiality was incorporated in the Act based on the recommendation of Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee submitted a report and gave certain suggestions for making arbitration more robust in India. The said recommendation was accepted and a provision has now been introduced by Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2019  that expressly mentions the duty of confidentiality and reads as follows:

42-A. Confidentiality of information.— Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, the arbitrator, the arbitral institution and the parties to the arbitration agreement shall maintain confidentiality of all arbitral proceedings except award where its disclosure is necessary for the purpose of implementation and enforcement of award.

It is noteworthy that Section 42-A is a non obstante clause which means that it deprives the parties of their autonomy and this provision supersedes any other law. As per the language of the section, the only exception to confidentiality is when the disclosure of the arbitral record is done for the limited purpose of implementation and enforcement of award.

Section 42-A: Myth or reality?

As per the language of Section 42-A, only the award can be disclosed for the limited purpose of its implementation and enforcement. Surprisingly, the language of the section does not talk about disclosure of the award for the purpose of challenge to the arbitral award under Section 34 of the Act. It is not uncommon for parties to approach the court under Section 29-A for extension of time period for passing of an award. In that case, the relevant record of arbitration is often filed along with the application for extension. Thus, there seems to be a practical problem in implementation of Section 42-A considering the fact that it is a non obstante clause and only permits disclosure of award that too for implementation and enforcement of award. Let us take some other scenarios, where a party is seeking interim measures under Section 9 from the court, a party files an application for termination or substitution of the arbitrator under Sections 14 and 15 or files an appeal under Section 37 against an order of the tribunal, even in these cases the arbitral record is filed before the court, that makes Section 42-A impractical and otiose.

Confidentiality v. Transparency

Often this issue has been a topic of discussion as to whether transparency is more important or confidentiality. It can be argued that the general public has more faith in the court proceedings as there is transparency involved in the process and the court proceedings are accessible to the general public whereas arbitral proceedings are private and are not accessible to third parties. Neither the proceedings nor the award passed by the arbitrator is accessible to any third party. Whereas the judgment of the court is pronounced in open court and available for public. Moreover, transparency ensures fairness and builds the trust of stakeholders in arbitration. Parties often complain that there is no accountability on part of the arbitrator as the proceedings take place in a closed room and as a result, the credibility of arbitrators is often challenged in court. For the said reasons, many people opine that arbitral awards be published as it will cement the faith of the parties in arbitration and at the same time there will be a development of jurisprudence in arbitration. Arbitrators will be careful while passing awards as they would be concerned about their public image and quality of arbitral awards will be maintained. Publication of awards will make it easier for parties to nominate an arbitrator based on his reputation. However exciting the idea of transparency may sound but it cannot be ignored that confidentiality is one of the key features which makes arbitration attractive to parties as a mode of dispute resolution thereby, making it difficult to implement the idea of publication of awards.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Sometimes privacy and confidentiality are used interchangeably when in fact these two concepts are different. Privacy in arbitral proceedings would mean that no third party can enter the arbitration proceedings and cannot witness the same as these proceedings take place in a private set-up in a closed room. In other words, privacy only means that arbitration proceedings cannot be attended by a third party who is not a party to the dispute except the counsels, witnesses and the arbitrator. Confidentiality on the other hand means that the content, documents, information which is adduced during the proceeding and the award are to be kept confidential and cannot be published or disclosed by any party.

Outsiders in the Arbitration Proceedings

Apart from the parties to the arbitration proceedings, there are outsiders who are strangers to the agreement but still sit in the arbitration proceedings e.g. counsels of the parties, witnesses, stenographers/transcribers, tribunal secretary, translators, etc. They are not governed by the arbitration agreement and have access to confidential information produced in the arbitration. Section 42-A fails to address this concern as it remains silent on the duty of these third parties to keep the arbitral record confidential. The language of the section only imposes confidentiality on the parties, arbitrator and the arbitral institution.

International Perspective

The UNCITRAL Model Law is silent on confidentiality. In the absence of any international rules prescribing confidentiality in arbitral proceedings, there has been a difference of opinion between various jurisdictions on the issue whether arbitral proceedings are confidential? Courts in Australia and USA have rejected the idea of an implied duty of confidentiality in arbitration and held that there cannot be a presumption of confidentiality in arbitration. Norway is another jurisdiction which has an express statutory provision which states that there is no duty of confidentiality in arbitration proceedings unless the parties otherwise agree. On the other hand countries like UK and France have recognised the concept of implied confidentiality as there is no express statutory provision regarding confidentiality.

Conclusion

The language of Section 42-A fails to take into consideration the concept of party autonomy which permits parties to decide whether they wish to keep the arbitral proceedings confidential or not. It can be argued that no statutory provision can impose confidentiality on the parties in an arbitration. Further, Section 42-A has been worded in such a way that it does not leave scope for parties to voluntarily consent for disclosure of certain documents and the exceptions in the provision fail to take note of the mandatory legal disclosures. The provision also does not provide the consequences of breach of this provision. The fine print of Section 42-A will render it otiose and as a result, the precious time of the court will be lost in interpreting this loosely-worded provision.

* by Tariq Khan, Principal Associate (Advani & Co.).

Hot Off The PressNews

The experimental live streaming of the First Court of the Gujarat High Court started today after the Chief Justice of High Court of Gujarat, Justice Vikram Nath passed the order for the same.

The order read:

“… with a view to effectuating and broadening the implementation of Open Court concept even during the virtual hearings of the Court, this High Court has already taken up on administrative side, to work out the modalities that can be adopted for giving access to anyone who wishes to watch the Court proceedings in live.”

The court proceedings are being telecasted live, purely on experimental basis and the aspect of continuing with or adapting the modality of live court proceedings will be decided based on the outcome of this trial starting October 26, 2020 and any other trial of any other modality that may be taken up in due course.

The link for the live streaming is accessible from the High Court website and the YouTube Channel of the High Court of Gujarat. The link will be updated every evening of the previous working day.

On September 26, 2018, A Bench comprising of CJ Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar and Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, JJ directed that the proceedings of constitutional importance having an impact on the public at large or a large number of people should be live streamed. Read more


*Image Courtesy: YouTube

Read the full text of the Press Release here

Read the full report on the Supreme Court ruling on Live Streaming of proceedings here

Hot Off The PressNews

The Ministry of Finance has taken a number of steps to eliminate fraudulent banking practices. This was stated by Shri Anurag Thakur Minister of State for Finance & Corporate Affairs in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on 19-11-2019. He stated that steps include, inter-alia, the following:

  1. Government has issued “Framework for timely detection, reporting, investigation, etc. relating to large value bank frauds” to Public Sector Banks (PSBs) for systemic and comprehensive checking of legacy stock of their non-performing assets (NPAs), which provides, inter-alia, that—
  • all accounts exceeding Rs. 50 crore, if classified as NPAs, be examined by banks from the angle of possible fraud, and a report placed before the bank’s Committee for Review of NPAs on the findings of this investigation;
  • examination be initiated for wilful default immediately upon reporting fraud to RBI; and
  • report on the borrower be sought from the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau in case an account turns NPA.
  1. Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 has been enacted to deter economic offenders from evading the process of Indian law by remaining outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts. The act provides for attachment of property of a fugitive economic offender, confiscation of such offender’s property and disentitlement of the offender from defending any civil claim.
  2. PSBs have been advised to obtain certified copy of the passport of the promoters/directors and other authorised signatories of companies availing loan facilities of more than Rs. 50 crore and, decide on publishing photographs of wilful defaulters, in terms of the instructions of RBI and as per their Board-approved policy and to strictly ensure the rotational transfer of officials/employees. The heads of PSBs have also been empowered to issue requests for issue of Look Out Circulars.
  3. For enforcement of auditing standards and ensuring the quality of audits, Government has established the National Financial Reporting Authority as an independent regulator.
  4. Instructions/advisories have been issued by Government to PSBs to decide on publishing photographs of wilful defaulters, in terms of RBI’s instructions and as per their Board-approved policy, and to obtain a certified copy of the passport of the promoters/directors and other authorised signatories of companies availing loan facilities of more than Rs. 50 crore.
  5. In order to bring transparency and accountability in the larger financial system, bank accounts of 3.38 lakh inoperative companies were frozen over the last two financial years.

Ministry of Finance

[Source: PIB]

Business NewsNews

DIN System of CBIC comes into force

This path-breaking DIN system in indirect tax administration has been created as per the direction of Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs Nirmala Sitharaman and from now onwards any CBIC communication will have to have a Documentation Identification Number. The government has already executed the DIN system in the direct tax administration. This step is to further the Government’s objectives of bringing transparency and accountability in the indirect tax administration also through the widespread use of information technology.

CBIC Chairman Shri Pranab K. Das said, “This measure would create a digital directory for maintaining a proper audit trail of such communications. Now all such specified communications with DIN would be verifiable on the online portal cbicddm.gov.in and any communication which is not in conformity with the prescribed guidelines as per the DIN related Circulars dated 05.11.2019 shall be treated as invalid.”

It would be pertinent to mention here that while specifying such exceptional circumstances the CBIC Circulars related to DIN dated 05.11.2019 say that whenever any such manual communication would be issued, it would be necessarily required to specify reason of issuing such a communication without DIN and written approval of the competent authority shall be obtained within 15 days.

CBIC has specified that any communication issued manually under exceptional circumstances would have to be regularised on the system within 15 working days of its issuance.

The CBIC, in exercise of its power under section 168(1) of the CGST Act, 2017/ Section 37 of the Central Excise Act, 1944/ Section 151A of the Customs Act, 1962, is implementing the system for electronic generation of a Document Identification Number (DIN) for all such communications sent by its offices to taxpayers and other concerned persons.


Ministry of Finance

[Press Release dt. 07-11-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): Bimal Jhulka (Information Commissioner), disposed of an appeal expressing displeasure in regard to the way RTI Applications were being responded and further stated that,

“There is complete negligence and laxity in the public authority in dealing with the RTI applications. It is clear that such matters are being ignored and set aside without application of mind which reflects disrespect towards the RTI Act, 2005 itself.”

The facts of the present matter are that, the appellant vide his RTI application had sought information on few points in respect to NBCC, regarding the list with details of allottees who had been allotted covered parking space at NBCC, Vibgyor Towers as on 30-06-2006 and 25-02-2010; total number of covered parking space allotted and the vacant, if any and other issues related thereto.

CPIO informed the appellant that the RTI application was forwarded for seeking suitable information from the PIO concerned under the provisions of Sections 5(4) & 5(5) of the RTI Act, 2005. Dissatisfied by the said response, the appellant approached the FAA.

Further, the appellant reiterated the contents of the RTI application and stated that the information sought had not been received by him, till date. Respondent-NBCC submitted that on receipt of the RTI application, an interim reply was provided to the appellant. Respondent also added to its submissions that the CPIO, NBCC, Kolkata had to provide the information within the stipulated time and notice of hearing was also addressed to them.

Appellant while contesting the above averments of the respondent submitted that he had not received any information till date, neither from the CPIO nor from the FAA, which was in contravention to the provisions of RTI Act, 2005.

Respondent while explaining the background of the matter informed that the Flats and Parking in the said Tower were also sold on the basis of the open lottery amongst the Applicants. To this, the appellant contested that so far he had not received any such letters regarding draw of the lottery for covered/ open parking. He also added that he desired all the information relating to the publication of draw of lottery/selection of open and covered parking/ announcement, etc.

However, the respondent agreed to forward the entire correspondences held with them to the appellant once again. On being queried by the Commission “whether the details relating to the allotment of flats/building plan/allottees details/procedure followed for allotment of covered parking and designation of the competent authority having power of deviating the Rules,” respondent replied in the negative and agreed to put it in the public domain.

Commission’s Observation

Commission while referring to the decision of Mujubur Rehman v. CIC, WP (C) 3845 of 2007, stated that timely response is the essence of RTI mechanism enacted to ensure transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities.

With regard to providing a clear and cogent response to the Appellant, the Commission referred to the decision of JP Aggarwal v. Union of India, WP (C) 7232 of 2009.

Commission observed that, a voluntary disclosure of all information such as the details relating to allotment of flats/building plan/ allottees detail/ procedure followed fro allotment of covered parking/name and the designation of the competent authority having power of deviating the Rules that ought to be displayed in the public domain should be the rule and members of public who having to seek information should be an exception.

Open Government, which is the cherished objective of the RTI Act, can be realised only if all public offices comply with proactive disclosure norms. Section 4(2) of the RTI Act mandates every public authority to provide as much information suo-motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including the internet, so that the public need not resort to the use of RTI Act.”

Supreme Court decision in CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhyay, (2011) 8 SCC 497, was also cited in which it stated that,

“The right to information is a cherished right. Information and right to information are intended to be formidable tools in the hands of responsible citizens to fight corruption and to bring in transparency and accountability.”

Adding to the above, Commission in regard to the larger public interest involved in the matter, referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Bihar Public Service Commission v. Saiyed Hussain Abbas Rizwi, (2012) 13 SCC 61, while explaining the term “Public Interest”.

Commission expressed its displeasure on the casual and callous approach adopted by the respondent in responding to the RTI application. It was felt that the conduct of the Respondent was against the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005 which was enacted to ensure greater transparency and effective access to the information.

Direction issued by the Commission pertaining to the matter

Commission directed the respondent to furnish a set of entire correspondences held with them to the appellant as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 within a period 15 days.

CPIO, Kolkata was warned to be extremely careful and vigilant in handling RTI petition in future, failing to which Commission would initiate penal action under Section 20(1) of the RTI Act, 2005.

It was also noted that FAA had not acted in accordance with the provisions of RTI Act, 2005 and therefore is advised to be alert and cautious in the implementation of the RTI Act, 2005 with due diligence and care.

Commission also instructs the Respondent Public Authority to convene periodic conferences/seminars to sensitize, familiarize and educate the concerned officials about the relevant provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 for effective discharge of its duties and responsibilities.

Thus, in view of the above terms, the appeal stands disposed. [Kushal Saha v. CPIO, NBCC, 2019 SCC OnLine CIC 1148, decided on 13-09-2019]

Legislation UpdatesNotificationsTaxation

With a view to bringing greater transparency in the functioning of the tax-administration and improvement in service delivery, almost all notices and orders of Income Tax Department are being generated electronically on the Income Tax Business Application (ITBA) platform. However, it has been brought to the notice of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) that there have been some instances in which the notice, order, summons, letter and any correspondence (hereinafter referred to as “communication”) were found to have been issued manually, without maintaining a proper audit trail of such communication.

In order to prevent such instances and to maintain proper audit trail of all communication, the CBDT has, vide Circular No.19/2019 dated 14.08.2019 laid down parameters specifying the manner in which any communication issued by any income-tax authority relating to assessment, appeals, orders, statutory or otherwise, exemptions, enquiry, investigation, verification of information, penalty, prosecution, rectification, approval etc. to the assessee or any other person will be dealt with. All such communication issued on or after the 1st of October, 2019 shall carry a computer-generated Document Identification Number (DIN) duly quoted in the body of such communication.

CBDT has also specified exceptional circumstances where the communication may be issued manually but only after recording reasons in writing and with the prior written approval of the Chief Commissioner / Director General of Income-Tax concerned. In cases where manual communication is required to be issued, the reason for the issue of manual communication without DIN has to be specified alongwith the date of obtaining written approval of the Chief Commissioner / Director General of Income-Tax in a particular format. Any communication which is not in conformity with the prescribed guidelines shall be treated as invalid and shall be deemed to have never been issued. Further, CBDT has also laid down the timelines and procedure by which such communication issued manually will have to be regularised and intimated to the Principal Director General of Income-tax (Systems).

            In addition to the above, in all pending assessment proceedings, where notices were issued manually, prior to issuance of the above referred Circular, all such cases would be identified and the notices so sent would be uploaded on ITBA by 31st October, 2019.


[Source: PIB]

Press Release dt. 14-08-2019

Ministry of Finance

Cabinet DecisionsLegislation Updates

The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved National Mineral Policy 2019. 

Benefits:

The New National Mineral Policy will ensure more effective regulation.  It will lead to sustainable mining sector development in future while addressing the issues of project affected persons especially those residing in tribal areas

Objective:-

The aim of National Mineral Policy 2019 is to have a more effective, meaningful and implementable policy that brings in further transparency, better regulation, and enforcement, balanced social and economic growth as well as sustainable mining practices.

Details:

The National Mineral Policy 2019 includes provisions which will give boost to mining sector such as

  • introduction of Right of First Refusal for RP/PL holders,
  • encouraging the private sector to take up exploration,
  • auctioning in virgin areas for composite RP cum PL cum ML on revenue share basis,
  • encouragement of merger and acquisition of mining entities and
  • transfer of mining leases and creation of dedicated mineral corridors to boost private sector mining areas.
  • The 2019 Policy proposes to grant status of industry to mining activity to boost financing of mining for private sector and for acquisitions of mineral assets in other countries by private sector
  • It also mentions that Long term import export policy for mineral will help private sector in better planning and stability in business
  • The Policy also mentions rationalize reserved areas given to PSUs which have not been used and to put these areas to auction, which will give more opportunity to private sector for participation
  • The Policy also mentions to make efforts to harmonize taxes, levies & royalty with world benchmarks to help private sector

Among the changes introduced in the National Mineral Policy, 2019 include the focus on make in India initiative and Gender sensitivity in terms of the vision.  In so far as the regulation in Minerals is concerned, E-Governance, IT-enabled systems, awareness and Information campaigns have been incorporated.  Regarding the role of state in mineral development online public portal with provision for generating triggers at higher level in the event of delay of clearances has been put in place.  NMP 2019 aims to attract private investment through incentives while the efforts would be made to maintain a database of mineral resources and tenements under mining tenement systems. The new policy focusses on use coastal waterways and inland shipping for evacuation and transportation of minerals and encourages dedicated mineral corridors to facilitate the transportation of minerals.  The utilization of the district mineral fund for equitable development of project affected persons and areas. NMP 2019 proposes a long term export-import policy for the mineral sector to provide stability and as an incentive for investing in large scale commercial mining activity.

The 2019 Policy also introduces the concept of Inter-Generational Equity that deals with the well-being not only of the present generation but also of the generations to come and also proposes to constitute an inter-ministerial body to institutionalize the mechanism for ensuring sustainable development in mining.

Background:

National Mineral Policy 2019 replaces the extant National Mineral Policy 2008 (“NMP 2008”) which was announced in the year 2008. The impetus to review NMP 2008 came about by way of a direction from the Supreme Court vide its judgment dated 02.08.2017 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 114/2014 entitled Common Cause v/s Union of India & Others.

In compliance of the directions of the Apex Court, the Ministry of Mines constituted a committee on 14.08.2017 under the chairmanship of Dr. K Rajeswara Rao, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Mines to review NMP 2008. The Committee had members from Central Ministries/ Departments, State Governments, Industry Associations and Subordinate offices of Ministry of Mines. The Committee also invited concerned NGOs and Institutional Bodies to take part in the deliberation of the Committee meetings. The Comments/suggestions from the stakeholders were also sought. Based on the deliberations held at Committee meetings and stakeholders’ comments/ suggestions, the Committee Report was prepared and submitted to the Ministry of Mines.

The Ministry of Mines accepted the committee Report and invited the comments/ suggestions of the stakeholders as part of the PLCP process. Based on the received comments/ suggestions received in PLCP process and the comments/ suggestions from the Central Ministries/ Departments the Ministry of Mines finalized the National Mineral Policy 2019.

[Press Release dt. 28-02-2019]

Cabinet

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the light of serious irregularities in the selection process of appointment of assistant teachers in government lower primary schools, the Bench of AK Goel and RF Nariman, JJ directed that for the purity of selection to the public posts, as far as possible the selection process conducted by the selection bodies, especially the State Public Service Commissions and the State Selection Boards, is videographed.

Directing the Registry to send a copy of the order to Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, for being forwarded to the concerned authorities for compliance, the Bench further directed:

“at examination centres as well as interview centres CCTV cameras should be installed to the extent viable. Footage thereof may be seen by an independent committee of three members and report of such committee may be placed on the website concerned.”

The Court gave the said order when the irregularities in the State of Meghalaya was brought to it’s notice. The Court noticed that such incidents were being reported in several cases as it had recently dealt with such a matter in Avinash C. v. State of Karnataka, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 330, decided on 4.4.2018. [State of Meghalaya v. Phikirba Khariah, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 336, order dated 06.04.2018]

Case BriefsInternational Courts

European Court of Justice: While deciding upon the issue of access to documents drawn up by Parliament which contain information concerning the positions of the institutions on the ongoing co-decision procedures with particular emphasis on the multicolumn tables drawn up in connection with ‘trilogues’, the 5-Judge Bench of the Court headed by M. Van der Woude, President, held that the work of the ‘trilogues’ constitute a decisive stage in the legislative process which entails exemplary adherence to the public’s right to access that work and the strict application of the exceptions provided for in the regulation regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. Thus the European Parliament must grant access, on specific request, to documents relating to ongoing trilogues.

A ‘trilogue’ is an informal tripartite meeting in which the representatives of Parliament, the Council and the Commission take part. The aim of such exchanges is to reach a prompt agreement on a set of amendments acceptable to Parliament and the Council, which must subsequently be approved by those institutions in accordance with their respective internal procedures. The ‘trilogues’ generally contain four columns: the text of the Commission’s legislative proposal; the position of Parliament as well as the amendments that it proposes; the position of the Council and the provisional compromise text or the preliminary positions of the Presidency of Council in relation to the amendments proposed by Parliament. The applicant Emilio De Capitani requested for access to documents drawn up by Parliament or made available to it which contain information concerning the positions of the institutions on ongoing co-decision procedures. The request related, in particular, to the multicolumn tables drawn up in connection with ‘trilogues’. However Parliament refused to disclose the fourth column taking the view that the fourth column of the documents contains provisional compromise texts and preliminary positions of the Presidency of Council, the disclosure of which would seriously undermine the decision-making process of the institution.

Perusing the facts of the case, the General Court observed that fourth column of trilogue tables concern an ongoing legislative procedure and emphasize that the principles of publicity and transparency are inherent to the EU legislative process and that no general presumption of non-disclosure can be upheld on the basis of the nature of a legislative procedure. It was furthermore observed that if citizens are to be able to exercise their democratic rights, then they must be in a position to follow in detail the decision-making process within the institutions taking part in the legislative procedures. The General Court thus annulled the decision of the European Parliament which refused the access of the fourth column of the ‘trilogues’. [Emilio De Capitani v. European Parliament, T-540/15, decided on 22.03.2018]

Hot Off The PressNews

The University Grants Commission (UGC) vide its letter dated 21-03-2017 has requested all the Universities to introduce identification mechanisms like photograph and Unique ID/Aadhaar number in students’ certificates. Such features are useful for the purposes of verification and curbing duplication. At the same time, they help in introducing uniformity and transparency within and across the system of higher education in the Country. UGC has also requested all the Universities to inscribe the name of institution in which a student is enrolled for a program of study as well as the mode of delivery (regular, part-time or distance).

[Press Release no. 1527337]

Ministry of Human Resource Development

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Central Information Commission (CIC): While strongly emphasizing the importance of judicial accountability and transparency, the Information Commissioner Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu has directed the Central Public Information Officer of Supreme Court and the Ministry of Law and Justice to disclose the action taken on complaints made against former Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir.

The appellant had filed RTI applications seeking the copy of the complaints received against former CJI Altamas Kabir, including complaints of Justice VR Krishna Iyer and Mr. Furquan; information as to the action taken on all such complaints and action taken to probe the leakage of Supreme Court verdict in Christian Medical College, Vellore v. Union of India, (2014) 2 SCC 305, before its pronouncement; and the copy of complaints received against any other sitting or retired Judge. The CPIO, Department of Legal Affairs, stated that the representation of Mr. Furquan was forwarded to Chief Justice of India for appropriate action. Similarly, the complaints received against serving/retired judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts were also forwarded to the Supreme Court and High Courts concerned for action and as originals were forwarded, they did not have those copies. He also explained that the disclosure of names of serving or retired judges, against whom complaints were made, might have far reaching consequences like demoralizing the Judges.

The CIC noted that though it could be unreasonable to give copies of frivolous complaints, but if any complaints were taken up for further probe after prima facie inquiry, it would be in public interest to disclose the copies of the complaints along with the status of action taken. The Commission thus directed the Ministry of Law and Justice to disclose the action taken on complaints made against former CJI Altamas Kabir and the action taken on the leakage of the judgment. It further directed the Ministry to inform the appellant as to the number of complaints made against former Judges that were received and forwarded, without indicating the names and contents; the current status of the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, the National Litigation Policy and the new Memorandum of Procedure, 2016-17; and the response to Government’s suggestion to create redressal mechanism for grievances in Supreme Court and High Courts. The Commission also directed the CPIO of Supreme Court to inform the appellant, the action taken on the representation of Mr. Furquan, and the number of complaints received from the Ministry of Law and Justice, without indicating the names or contents. [Subhash Chandra Agrawal v. Central Public Information Officer, 2017 SCC OnLine CIC 592, decided on 03.05.2017]