In the OROP case, CJI Chandrachud refuses to accept ‘sealed cover’: Why did he do so?

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Source: The post is based on the article “In the OROP case, CJI Chandrachud refuses to accept ‘sealed cover’: Why did he do so?” published in Indian Express on 21st March 2023

What is the News?

The Supreme Court has refused to accept the Centre’s “sealed cover” report on the delay in clearing the one-rank-one-pension (OROP) arrears of former defence personnel saying “we need to put an end to this sealed-cover business”.

What is “sealed cover jurisprudence”?

It is the practice of seeking and accepting information from government agencies in sealed envelopes that can only be perused by judges.It has been followed by the Supreme Court in the past, and sometimes lower courts as well.

Read here: Sealed Cover Jurisprudence is appalling 

Under what circumstances does the court seek information in a sealed cover?

This can happen in broadly two kinds of cases: (1) when the information is connected to an ongoing investigation and (2) 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.

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. For example:

– 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.

What is the problem with sealed cover jurisprudence?

In ‘Cdr Amit Kumar Sharma v Union of India’, the Supreme Court said that the non-disclosure of relevant material to the affected party and its disclosure in a sealed cover to the adjudicating authority sets a dangerous precedent. It perpetuates two problems:

Firstly, it denies the aggrieved party their legal right to effectively challenge an order since the adjudication of issues has proceeded on the basis of unshared material provided in a sealed cover.

Secondly, it perpetuates a culture of opaqueness and secrecy. It bestows absolute power in the hands of the adjudicating authority. 

Must read: The Issue of Sealed Cover Jurisprudence – Explained, pointwise
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