NEW DELHI :
Expanding the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) applications, the Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a Delhi high court judgement declaring the Chief Justice’s office as a “public authority" that falls under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Wednesday’s judgement stresses that no office is above the law and gives the right to citizens to question institutions and offices showing resistance to the RTI Act.
A Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, D.Y. Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna held that while providing information about the Chief Justice’s office, a balance has to be maintained with respect to right to privacy and confidentiality of important aspect. The judgement also entails that there needs to be a balance between transparency, judicial independence and the RTI Act.
Experts say that this judgement paves way for greater transparency across all institutions, as it gives a precedent order by the highest judicial body of the country for the citizen to seek information under the RTI.
RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal had approached the central information commission (CIC) in 2009 January for details of the correspondence between the collegium and the government regarding the appointment of judges. The Supreme Court appealed the order in the Delhi high court and justice S. Ravindra Bhat in September 2009 upheld the order of the CIC.
A three-judge bench comprising former Delhi high court Chief Justice A.P. Shah and justices Vikramjit Sen and S. Muralidhar passed a landmark judgement on 12 January 2010 holding that the Chief Justice’s office comes within the ambit of RTI and “judicial independence was not a judge’s privilege, but a responsibility cast upon him."
The central public information officer (CPIO) of the Supreme Court then moved the Supreme Court challenging the order of the Delhi high court and of the CIC stating that such a declaration would hamper the judicial independence of the office.
Agarwal, through his advocate Prashant Bhushan, argued in the Supreme Court under the “doctrine of necessity" the apex court has to judge its own cause. On 4 April, the five-judge Constitution bench reserved its verdict.
After the verdict on Wednesday, Agarwal told Mint that, “This is a welcome judgment, where the court has passed an order against own office. Post this judgement, resistance to RTI Act by other institutions should not be there anymore. The detailed judgement is awaited for it will only then be clear as to the details regarding the communication of collegiums regarding the appointment of judges is disclosed to whom and with what conditions."
The apex court while pronouncing the judgement also dismissed three appeals filed by the secretary general of the Supreme Court and the central public information officer of the apex court.
The bench said that judicial independence cannot be achieved by denying information, adding, “Transparency does not undermine judicial independence, rather it strengthens it."
Justice Chandrachud added that: “Judicial independence does not mean that judges are above the law."
Anjali Bharadwaj, co-convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information told Mint, “This is a very significant judgement as it showcases that even the office of the CJI comes under the ambit of RTI and so no one is above the law. Accountability is very important for the functioning of an institution. Even Transparency is extremely critical and essential to uphold the fundamental rights. RTI is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution."