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Sealed Cover Jurisprudence

Context:

The 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.

Relevance:

GS II- Executive & Judiciary

Dimensions of the article::

  1. What is sealed cover jurisprudence? 
  2. When has it been done in the past? 
  3. Criticism
  4. About One rank, one pension

What is sealed cover jurisprudence? 

  • It is a practice used by the Supreme Court and sometimes lower courts, of asking for or accepting information from government agencies in sealed envelopes that can only be accessed by judges.
  • While a specific law does not define the doctrine of sealed cover, the Supreme Court derives its power to use it from Rule 7 of order XIII of the Supreme Court Rules and Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.
  • It is stated under the said rule that if the Chief Justice or court directs certain information to be kept under sealed cover or considers it of confidential nature, no party would be allowed access to the contents of such information, except if the Chief Justice himself orders that the opposite party be allowed to access it.

It also mentions that information can be kept confidential if its

  • publication is not considered to be in the interest of the public.
  • As for the Evidence Act, official unpublished documents relating to state affairs are protected and a public officer cannot be compelled to disclose such documents.
  • Other instances where information may be sought in secrecy or confidence is when its publication impedes an ongoing investigation, such as details which are part of the police’s case diary; or breaches the privacy of an individual.

When has it been done in the past? 

 Rafale fighter jet deal,
  • A Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi in 2018, had asked the Centre to submit details related to deal’s decision making and pricing in a sealed cover. T
  • his was done as the Centre had contended that such details were subject to the Official Secrets Act and Secrecy clauses in the deal.
National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam,
  • The supreme court mandated coordinator of the NRC, Prateek Hajela, was asked by the apex court to submit period reports in sealed cover, which could neither be accessed by the government nor the petitioners.
In the 2014 BCCI reforms case
  • The probe committee of the cricket body had submitted its report to the Supreme Court in a sealed envelope, asking it not to make public the names of nine cricketers who were suspected of a match and spot fixing scam.
Bhima Koregaon case,
  • Activists were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the Supreme Court had relied on information submitted by the Maharashtra police in a sealed cover.

Criticism:

  • Critics of this practice contend that it is not favorable to the principles of transparency and accountability of the Indian justice system.
  • It stands in contrast to the idea of an open court, where decisions can be subjected to public scrutiny.
  • It is also said to enlarge the scope for arbitrariness in court decisions, as judges are supposed to lay down reasoning for their decisions.
  • Besides, it is argued that not providing access to such documents to the accused parties obstructs their passage to a fair trial and adjudication.

About One rank, one pension

  • OROP means that any two military personnel retiring at the same rank, with the same years of service, must get an equal pension.
  • While this might appear almost obvious, there are several reasons why two military personnel who may have retired at the same rank with the same years of service, may get different pensions.
  • Military personnel across the three services fall under two categories,
    • the officers
    • the other ranks
  • The other ranks, which are soldiers, usually retire at age 35.
  • Unlike government employees who retire close to 60, soldiers can thus miss out on the benefits from subsequent pay commissions.
  • And since pensions are based on the last drawn salary, pensions too are impacted adversely.
  • Similarly, the age when officers in the military retire depends upon their ranks.
  • Uttar Pradesh and Punjab have the highest number of OROP beneficiaries.
  • Armed Forces Personnel who had retired till 30th june 2014 are covered under it.
  • The implementation of the scheme was based on recommendation of the Koshiyari committee.

-Source: Indian Express


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