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Indian Case Summary

State Of U.P vs Raj Narain & Ors on 24 January, 1975 – Case Summary

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In the case of the State of Uttar Pradesh vs. Raj Narain & Others on 24 January 1975, a significant legal dispute unfolded that had far-reaching implications for the interpretation of the Indian Evidence Act, particularly sections 123 and 162. This case was heard by the Supreme Court of India, with the bench consisting of Ray, A.N. (CJ), Mathew, Kuttyil Kurien, Alagiriswami, A., Sarkaria, Ranjit Singh, and Untwalia, N.L.

Facts of the Case

The case arose from an election petition filed by Raj Narain, the respondent. He requested the High Court to summon the Secretary, General Administration and Chief Secretary of the State Government, and the head clerk of the office of the Superintendent of Police of the District. The purpose was to produce the “Blue Book” (rules and instructions for the protection of the Prime Minister when on tour or in travel) and certain other correspondence exchanged between the Government of India and the State Government. The Home Secretary deputed one of his officers to go to the court with the documents but with clear instructions to claim privilege in respect of those documents under section 123 of the Evidence Act.

Issues Raised

The High Court held that under section 123 of the Evidence Act, the Minister or the Head of the Department concerned must file an affidavit in the first instance. Since no such affidavit had been filed initially, the privilege was lost, and the affidavit filed later claiming privilege was of no avail. The court also held that it would decide the question of privilege only when permission to produce a document had been withheld under section 123. The court further held that the Blue Book, in respect of which privilege was claimed, was not an unpublished official record relating to the affairs of the State because the Union Government had referred to a portion of it in one of its affidavits and a member of Parliament had referred to a particular rule of the Blue Book in Parliament.

Court’s Observations and Judgement

The Supreme Court, in its judgement, held that the foundation of the law behind sections 123 and 162 of the Evidence Act is the same as in English Law. It is that injury to public interest is the reason for the exclusion from disclosure of documents whose contents, if disclosed, would injure public and national interest. The Court will proprio motu exclude evidence, the production of which is contrary to public interest. It is in public interest that confidentiality shall be safeguarded. Confidentiality is not a head of privilege. It is not that the contents contain material which it would be damaging to the national interest to divulge but rather that the documents would be of a class which demand protection.

The Court also held that it is now the well-settled practice in India that an objection is raised by an affidavit affirmed by the Head of the Department. The Court may also require a Minister to affirm an affidavit. Where no affidavit was filed, an affidavit could be directed to be filed later on. The Court can direct further affidavit in that behalf. If the Court is satisfied with the affidavits, the Court will refuse disclosure. If the Court, in spite of the affidavit, wishes to inspect the document, the Court may do so.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal, overruling the High Court’s decision and establishing a precedent for the interpretation and application of sections 123 and 162 of the Indian Evidence Act.