Is the position taken by the CJI something new? Not really. The court has expressed this view even before this week, last month, and in October last year. Some examples:
Under what circumstances does the court seek information in a sealed cover? This can happen in broadly two kinds of cases: (i) when the information is connected to an ongoing investigation and, (ii) when the information is personal or confidential in nature. It is understood that in the first situation, an ongoing investigation could be impeded by the disclosure, and in the second situation, an individual’s privacy could be affected or there may be a breach of trust.
So what is the problem then? The secrecy could end up preventing a party from having a full overview of the charges against them. Also, sealed covers are at a fundamental level incompatible with the idea of an open court and a transparent justice system.
In March 2022, in a case involving the Bihar government, a three-judge Bench headed by then CJI Ramana insisted that all arguments should be made in open court.
Later that same day, Justice Chandrachud, during the hearing on an appeal against the Centre’s ban on the Malayalam TV channel MediaOne
The channel had gone off air on February 8 after the Kerala High Court upheld the ban by relying on documents submitted by the Centre in a sealed envelope. But the SC declined to allow the same practice, and subsequently stayed the ban.
Supreme Court on Monday (March 20) said it would not accept a “confidential” submission from the Centre on the disbursal of arrears to retired defence personnel under the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme.
In December 2019, while granting bail to former Minister P Chidambaram in the INX media case, a Supreme Court Bench of Justices R Banumathi, A S Bopanna, and Hrishikesh Roy censured the Delhi High Court for relying on material submitted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a sealed cover.
So how did the use of sealed covers become common? The Supreme Court has itself encouraged the practice of seeking public interest-related information in sealed envelopes, most recently under former CJI and now Rajya Sabha member Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
In the Rafale aircraft case, the court accepted the government’s argument that the matter pertained to the Official Secrets Act.
While refusing to stay the arrest of activists held in the Bhima-Koregaon case, it relied on “evidence” submitted by the Maharashtra police in a sealed envelope.
In the NRC exercise in Assam — which led to about 19 lakh citizens being excluded from the list — the apex court sought details from the NRC coordinator in a sealed cover with neither the government nor the affected parties being allowed to look at them
In the case involving corruption allegations against former CBI director Alok Verma, the court insisted that the Central Vigilance Commission submit its report in a sealed cover, ostensibly to maintain public confidence in the agency.
In the 2G case, in which it had cancelled a large number of licences, the court had relied on sealed covers.
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