Global Freedom of Expression

Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Public Documents
  • Date of Decision
    September 2, 2009
  • Outcome
    Decision Outcome (Disposition/Ruling), Access to Information Granted
  • Case Number
    W.P. (C) 288/2009
  • Region & Country
    India, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Appellate Court
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention
  • Tags
    Public Interest

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The High Court of Delhi held that asset declarations of Supreme Court judges should be disclosed if there is public interest in disclosure; where the interest is shown, the authority should consult the judge concerned and balance the interest in disclosure against privacy concerns. The Court reasoned that while Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act stipulated that disclosure of personal information of a third party was exempt from disclosure on the ground of privacy, the information has limited protection only and its disclosure is dependent upon the satisfaction of the competent authority that it would be in the larger public interest to disclose such information; further, in the case of public servants, the degree of privacy protection was lower so that a larger public interest in disclosure was more likely to prevail.

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In November 2007, the Applicant asked the Central Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court of India (the CPIO) to provide (i) a copy of the 1997 Full Court Resolution which required every judge to declare his/her assets to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (CJI); and (ii) information relating to the declaration of the Chief Justices’ assets. While the first part of the Applicant’s request was satisfied, access to information regarding asset declarations was denied on the grounds that it “was not held by or under the control of the Registry of the Supreme Court”.

Decision Overview

The Court found that the Chief Justice’s office is a “public authority” within the meaning of the Right to Information (RTI) Act as it performs numerous administrative functions in addition to its adjudicatory role. Access to information it held was therefore regulated by the Act. The Court emphasized that information pertaining to submitted declarations and their contents constitutes “information” within the meaning of Section 2 (f) of the Act.

The CPIO argued that assuming that asset declarations constituted “information” under the Act, disclosure would breach a fiduciary duty owed to the judges. The rule of confidentiality of asset declarations was also found in the 1997 Resolution. The Court dismissed this argument pointing out that the CJI could not be a fiduciary vis-à-vis judges of the Supreme Court because judges held independent office and neither their affairs nor conduct was controlled by the CJI. As to the confidentiality of information, the Court highlighted that the “mere marking of a document, as ‘confidential’, in this case, did not undermine the overbearing nature of […]the Act”.

The CPIO also submitted that access to asset information would result in unwarranted intrusion of judges’ privacy.  The Court found that Section 8(1)(j) of the Act indeed stipulated the exemption from disclosure of personal information of a third party on the ground of privacy. The exemption applied irrespective of whether a third party was a private individual or a public official. The Court noted that if the information concerns a third party, “public interest in disclosure is required.” In case of public servants, the degree of their privacy protection was lower and thus a larger public interest in disclosure was more likely to override the interest in privacy. Once the requester of information demonstrated “the larger public interest”, the next step for a relevant authority was to consult a third party (the public servant) and eventually to balance the interest in disclosure against the privacy concerns.

The Court ordered the CPIO to release information about asset declarations made by the judges of the Supreme Court, but not their content as the requester did not ask for it.

Decision Direction

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Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • India, Right to Information Act 2005, sec. 2(f)
  • India, Right of Information Act 2005, sec. 2(h)
  • India, Right to Information Act 2005, sec. 8
  • India, Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association. v. India, (1993) 4 S.C.C. 441
  • India, Kruze v. Johnson, 1895 All ER 105
  • India, Dwarkanath Tewari v. State of Bihar AIR, 1959 SC 259
  • India, State of Punjab v. Sodhi Sukhdev Singh, (1961) 2 S.C.R. 371
  • India, Sirsi Municipality v. Cecilia Con. Francis Tellis, 1973 (1) SCC 409
  • India, Indira Jaising v. Registrar General, 2003 (5) SCC 494
  • India, State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain, (1975) AIR 865
  • India, Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, (2002) 3 S.C.R. 294
  • India, People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Another v. Union of India and Another, A.I.R. [2003] S.C. 2363
  • India, C.Ravichandran Iyer v. Justice A.M. Bhattacharjee & Others, 1995 (5) SCC 457:
  • India, K.Veeraswami v. Union of India, 1991 (3) SCC 655
  • India, Indian Airlines Corporation. v. Sukhdeo Rai, (1971) 2 SCC 192
  • India, A.K. Kraipak v. Union of India, 1969 (2) SCC 262
  • India, Andi Mukta Sadguru Shree Muktajee Vandas Swami Suvarna Jayanti Mahotsav Smarak Trust v. V.R. Rudani, (1989) 2 SCC 691
  • India, B.N. Nagarajan v. State of Mysore, (1966) 3 SCR 682,
  • India, L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India, 1997 (3) SCC 261
  • India, Minerva Mills v. Minerva Mills v. Union of India, 1980 (3) SCC 625
  • India, Kesavananda Bharati v. Union of India, 1973 Supp SCR 1
  • India, J. P. Mitter v. Chief Justice, Calcutta AIR, 1965 SC 961
  • India, Smt. Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Shri Raj Narain, 1975 Supp SCC 1
  • India, In re the Special Courts Bill, 1979 (1) SCC 380
  • India, Gupta v. Union of India, (1982) 2 S.C.R. 365
  • India, Sub-Committee on Judicial Accountability v. Union of India, 1991 (4) SCC 699
  • India, Re Special Reference No. 1 of 1998, 1998 [7] SCC 739
  • India, I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu, 2007 (2) SCC1)
  • India, Ramana Dayaram Shetty v. International Airport Authority of India, (1979) 3 SCC 489
  • India, H.V. Nirmala v. Karnataka State Financial Corpn., (2008) 7 SCC 639
  • India, G.J. Fernandez v. State of Karnataka, 1990 (2) SCC 488
  • India, Union of India v. Rajpal Singh, 2009 (1) SCC 216)
  • India, Mr. Krishna Gopal Kakani v. Bank of Baroda, 2008 (13) SCALE 160
  • U.S., Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928)
  • India, Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1963 SC 1295 (1962)
  • India, Gobind v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (1975) 3 S.C.R. 946
  • India, Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, (1994) 6 SCC 632
  • India, District Registrar and Collector v. Canara Bank, (2005) 1 SCC 496

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

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