New Delhi: In a landmark judgement, the Delhi high court on Wednesday held that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a public authority and his office came within the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, and disclosure of assets of Supreme Court (SC) judges made to him could be made public.
The judgement, which is expected to bring more transparency in the judiciary, assumes significance as CJI K.G. Balakrishnan has consistently held that his office did not come within the ambit of the RTI Act.
“The CJI is a public authority under the RTI Act and the CJI holds the information pertaining to assets declaration in his capacity as Chief Justice. That office is a public authority under the Act and is covered by its provisions,” justice S. Ravindra Bhatt said in a 72-page judgement. “Declaration of assets by Supreme Court judges is an information under Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act. The information pertaining to declaration given to the CJI and the contents of such declaration are information and subject to the provisions of the RTI Act,” the court said.
Countered: Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan has consistently held that his office did not come within the ambit of the Act. PIB
The verdict came in the backdrop of intense debate over the issue and last week’s decision by SC judges to make public their assets on the official website. The high court rejected the SC’s plea that the disclosure of information on assets held by the CJI was “unworkable”. The court, which described the transparency law as “powerful beacon”, said the modalities for revealing information could be decided by the CJI in consultation with other judges.
The court, which upheld the Central Information Commission’s order directing the SC to disclose whether judges are declaring their assets to the CJI or not, said “the holders of power” are expected to live by the standards they set and the judiciary is no exception.
It said “the Parliamentary intention in enacting this law was to arm citizens with the mechanism to scrutinize government and public processes and ensure transparency”. The transparency law is the most important piece of legislation in the post-independence era to effectuate democracy, it said.
The verdict was lauded by noted jurists K.K. Venugopal,Shanti Bhushan and P.P. Rao, who not only described it as “bold” on a “highly sensitive” issue but also said that it was “legally and constitutionally correct” where for the first time a decision has been given against the superior court.