Information related to the integrity of a public servant is personal

Written by Indu Bhan | Indu Bhan | Updated: May 29 2013, 09:14am hrs
Arbitral tribunal to test dead claims

The Supreme Court, in the case of Schlumberger Asia Services Ltd vs ONGC, has nominated former chief justice VN Khare as chairman and justices DP Wadhwa and SN Variava, former Supreme Court judges, as arbitrators to resolve the disputes between the Hong Kong-based firm and the PSU oil company. It said that the issue whether the claims are long dead and barred by the law of limitation will be determined by the arbitration tribunal.


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In this case, the foreign firm had entered into a contract with ONGC for supply of drilling equipment in December 2004. Schlumberger Asia complained that it had performed the work as per the contract, but its invoices were either short paid or not paid. Since no payment was received, it sent notices several times invoking arbitration clause in the agreement. Finally, ONGC in February 2012 sent a reply denying that any amount was due. This led Schlumberger Asia to move the Supreme Court seeking appointment of the nominee arbitrator on behalf of ONGC as well as the presiding arbitrator.

Senior counsel Siddharth Luthra, appearing for ONGC, submitted that the contract had come to an end long time ago upon the MNC firm accepting payment in 2007. Besides, the arbitration petition raised dead claims, he added. Senior counsel Sanjiv Puri, appearing for Schlumberger Asia, submitted that the limitation stops running from the date mentioned in the notice invoking arbitration. He submitted that his client had sent the final notice in January 2012 and ONGC had denied the claim through its letter in February 2012. The disputes clearly arose only with effect from February 2012 and, therefore, the preliminary objection raised by ONGC deserved to be rejected, he added.

Roadmap for computing compensation

The Supreme Court has said that the statutory schedule for calculating compensation in road accident claims under the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 need not be scrupulously followed by courts and tribunals. Setting to rest the contrary views by its other benches, it said that the expression just means that the amount so determined is fair, reasonable and equitable by accepted legal standards and not a forensic lottery. Obviously just compensation does not mean perfect or absolute compensation. The just compensation principle requires examination of the particular situation obtaining uniquely in an individual case, the top court said in the case of Reshma Kumari vs Madan Mohan. It further asked all the courts to follow the new guidelines and those laid down in its 2009 judgment in Sarla Verma vs Delhi Transport Corporation.

Divergent views were taken by the apex court judges for over a decade on the issue. Some benches were of the opinion that the multiplier specified in the Second Schedule should be taken as a guide for calculation of amount of compensation payable in a case falling under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. They felt that it was logically sound and legally well established. The multiplier represented the number of years purchase on which the loss of dependency is capitalised. However, some judgments held the view that the table for calculating damages was unworkable. Then the matter was referred to a larger bench of three judges, which after analysing about a dozen judgments laid down guidelines for arriving at a fair figure for damages under various situations.

RTI info on CESTAT member dismissed

Rejecting an appeal filed by a RTI applicant RK Jain seeking documents relating to the annual confidential report of one CESTAT judicial member Jyoti Balasunaram, the Supreme Court said that the information related to the integrity of a public servant is personal and no larger public interest is involved. It further said that Jain had not made a bona fide public interest in seeking information and the disclosure of such information would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. Both the Delhi High Court and the finance ministry had dismissed the RTI plea on the ground that the information sought by the RTI applicant is the third party information and divulging of such an information is not in the public interest. Jain had sought the copies of all note sheets and correspondence pages of file relating to Balasundram.

Counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Jain, submitted that ACR of a public servant has a relationship with public activity as he discharges public duties and, therefore, the matter is of a public interest; asking for such information does not amount to any unwarranted invasion in the privacy of public servant. Additional Solicitor General AS Chandhiok, appearing for government, contended that the information relating to ACR relates to the personal information and may cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual.