Government officials facing departmental proceedings and penalties are entitled to ask the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to come clean on its advice in their cases.
In a judgment that could introduce a degree of transparency in the handling of disciplinary cases, the Delhi high court has ruled that employees should be able to access the file notings and correspondence in the file held by UPSC.
The high court held that UPSC could not bar disclosure of such documents under the Right to Information Act if it is related to the person filing the application.
“It is only when the information is sought by a third party that such an exemption can be claimed by UPSC,” Justice VK Jain said, disposing of a bunch of petitions filed by the UPSC trying to block the transparency law. In all these cases, the Central Information Commission had directed the UPSC to provide the information sought under RTI.
The UPSC – that takes key recruitment decisions for the Centre – also has the mandate to give its views in every case of major penalty proceedings against senior government officers. It has, however, been reluctant to reveal how it finalised its views on action against the officers concerned.
The UPSC had refused to provide copies of its advice to the government on disciplinary cases, arguing that the advice might contain information which could put its officers at risk. Besides, UPSC had invoked an exemption clause under RTI, arguing that the advice to the government was given in a fiduciary capacity.
Justice Jain, who didn’t find merit in the commission’s arguments, noted that there was certainly a need to protect UPSC officers if they feared harassment or harm. But this objective could be easily achieved by removing the details that could identify the UPSC officers who handled the case.
The court accordingly told the UPSC to block, “the name, designation or any other indication which would disclose or tend to disclose the identity of the author of the noting,” as the safeguard.
“Denying the notings altogether would not be justified when the intended objective can be fully achieved by adopting such safeguards,” the court observed.