NEW DELHI: In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court has held that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The Supreme Court said during the delivering of judgment that transparency does not undermine judicial freedom.
The court, however, said that judicial independence has to be kept in mind while disclosing information in public interest.
In 2007, RTI activist Subhash Chandra Aggarwal filed an RTI and asked for details of the assets of the judges. When his application was rejected, the matter reached the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) and CIC asked for information. After that, the matter was challenged in Delhi High court. The High court said that the office of CJI comes under RTI but it was again challenged in Supreme Court. A hearing was held in the Supreme Court in April 2019 and the court had reserved the verdict.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi yesterday dismissed the appeal filed by the Central Public Information Officer and the Secretary-General of the apex court against the Delhi High Court’s 2010 judgement.
What Was Delhi High Court’s Judgment in 2010?
The Delhi High Court had said in a judgment on 10 January 2010 that the office of the Chief Justice comes under the purview of the RTI Act. The Delhi High court said that judicial independence is not the privilege of the judge, but a responsibility on him. The High Court rejected the appeal of the apex court that judicial independence would be ‘obstructed’ by bringing the CJI office under the purview of RTI.
The High Court rejected the plea of the apex court that judicial independence would be ‘obstructed’ by bringing the CJI office under the purview of RTI. The General Secretary of the Supreme Court filed a petition against the decision and now SC has announced its verdict.
Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal, representing the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Supreme Court, had said that sharing of information related to the collegium under the CJI’s office would embarrass the judges and the government and destroy judicial freedom.
Writing the judgement on behalf of the CJI, Justice Deepak Gupta and himself, Justice Sanjiv Khanna referred to several decisions and viewpoints to highlight the contentious nature of the issue of transparency, accountability and judicial independence.
He said it is necessary that the question of judicial independence is accounted for in the balancing exercise.
The judgement, which has been concurred by Justices N V Ramana and D Y Chandrachud in separate verdicts, said that in some cases, judicial independence may demand openness and transparency by furnishing the information and in some cases, disclosure may not be needed.
What is RTI Act?
Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 provides timely response to the citizens on their requests for government information.
The major objective of the RTI Act is to promote transparency, empower the citizens and accountability in the working condition of the Government.
An RTI can be written on a simple paper addressing Public Information Officer of the concerned department along with postal order of Rs. 20.
Apart from Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, the bench featured Justices NV Ramana, DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna. While the Chief Justice and Justices Gupta and Khanna wrote one judgement, Justices Ramana and Chandrachud have written separate verdicts.
Justice Chandrachud said the judiciary cannot function in total insulation as judges enjoy a constitutional post and discharge a public duty. Justice Ramana said there should be balancing formula for the Right to Privacy and the Right to transparency, and the independence of the judiciary should be protected from any breach.
On whether the deliberations of the Supreme Court collegium comprising five senior-most judges in the appointment of judges or lawyers should be made public, the top court ruled that it should be decided on a case-to-case basis keeping in mind the larger public interest. The bench said that only the names of judges recommended by the Collegium for an appointment can be disclosed, not the reasons.