The Kerala Government informed the Supreme Court on Friday (November 10) that it has supplied to the petitioner the copy of the report submitted in 2021 by a committee constituted to examine the contributory pension scheme.
It may be recalled that last week (November 3), the Court had pulled up the State for placing the report before the Cabinet with seemingly an intention to shield it from public disclosure.
“..it appears that after taking adjournment from the Court, the report was hurriedly placed before the Cabinet,” the Court had observed in the previous order. “We are sorry to say this that the State Government has taken undue advantage of the leniency shown by this Court by granting adjournment. Such a conduct of the State cannot be tolerated,” the bench had ordered while asking the Chief Secretary to appear before it on November 10, if the report is not shared with the petitioner before that date.
The National Pension System was implemented in Kerala for Government employees appointed on or after 1.4.2013. The State Government had constituted a committee to review the system and the Committee had submitted a report on 30.4.2021. This report was the subject matter of the petition before the Apex Court.
The petitioner before the Apex Court, Jayachandran Kallingal, General Secretary of the Joint Council of State Service Organisations, had sought for a copy of the report under the Right to Information Act, 2005, but was denied the same stating that steps were being taken by the State to examine the report in detail and take a policy decision in the matter.
The petitioner had then approached the Kerala High Court seeking a copy of the report. He had contended that it was a public document. A division bench of the Kerala High Court had denied him relief stating as thus:
“We are of the undoubted opinion that even if the contents of a document is not confidential, once the documents is a subject matter to be placed before the Cabinet so as to take a policy decision, it is the subject matter of exemption as provided under section 8(1)(i) of the Act, 2005”
On October 30, the Court pointed out that the status of a document cannot remain as a ‘Potential Cabinet document’ for over two and a half years. The Court noted that the report was submitted to the State Government on 30th April, 2021 and till 30th October, 2023, it had not been placed before the Cabinet. Though the Court was then inclined to grant relief to the petitioner, the State took adjournment seeking one more opportunity.
However, on the next hearing date, November 3, the State told the Court that the report has been placed before the Cabinet. The Court was displeased with this conduct of the State and reprimanded it for “hurriedly placing the document before the cabinet”. It then proceeded to direct the appearance of the Chief Secretary, if the report is not supplied to the petitioner before November 10.
When the matter was taken up today (10th Nov), the Court was informed by the counsel for the state that the report had been handed over to the appellant. However, the counsel insisted that the High Court judgment should not become a precedent.
“After our last order, the state government has supplied the document that is the subject matter of this SLP, to the petitioner. In view of this development, it is not necessary to entertain the petition. However, we clarify that we are not giving our imprimatur to the view taken by the High Court and all questions are left open to be decided in appropriate proceedings.” the bench of Justice Abhay S Oka and Justice Pankaj Mithal stated today.
Sr. Adv. Ranjith Thampan, AOR Mohammed Sadique T.A, Adv. Abraham Mathew, Adv. Alim Anvar appeared for the Petitioner
Sr. Adv. Pallav Shishodia, AOR C.K. Sasi, Adv. Meena K Poulose appeared for the Respondents.
Case Title: JAYACHANDRAN KALLINGAL V. STATE OF KERALA, Petition(s) for Special Leave to Appeal (C) No(s). 8248/2023