The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday held that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) comes under the definition of "public authority" under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) and observed that the transparency does not undermine judicial independence.
The judgment was delivered by a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice, Ranjan Gogoi comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, D.Y. Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna while upholding the 2010 judgment of the Delhi High Court which ruled that office of the CJI comes under the purview of the RTI.
The Supreme Court said, "Public interest demands that transparency is maintained," adding that it said transparency strengthens the judicial independence.
The SC ruled that the right to privacy and confidentiality is an important aspect and it must be balanced. The bench said that there has to be a balance between the right to information and the right to privacy as well as confidentiality and independence of the judiciary.
The court had reserved the order in the case on April 4.
The issue arose from an appeal filed by the Supreme Court Secretary-General against the January 2010 judgment of the Delhi High Court that declared the CJI's office a "public authority" within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.
The Counsel appearing for Subhash Chandra Aggarwal, who had argued that the court has favoured transparency, through various judgments, even before the RTI Act was brought in. But when it comes to cases relating to transparency of the court itself, the "court has not been very forthcoming," the Counsel said.
The Counsel added that the disclosure of the information is the best safeguard to ensure the right people get appointment and disclosure must be in the public and has to be for the public.
The Counsel had stressed on the need for transparency in the appointment and transfer of judges.
"Process of appointment and transfers is shrouded in mystery. It remains a sacred ritual and its mystery confined to a handful of people," Counsel said, adding that the possibility cannot be ruled out that the process may result in "wrong appointment or transfer and may lead to nepotism".
Every step towards transparency is engendering "greater public confidence in the institution", be it the publication of the Supreme Court Collegium resolutions or the roster or even the list of candidates for senior designation, the advocate contended.
Chief Justice Gogoi had then replied by saying, "Of late, we are experiencing good people, who have opted to become judges, withdrawing their consent. On interaction, the reason appears to be the possibility of the negative observations, whether rightly or wrongly, being brought into the public domain. In such a case, not only does he not become a judge, but his reputation, his professional life, his family life is all adversely affected."
The Chief Justice had further said that nobody is for a system of opaqueness. "Nobody wants to remain in the state of darkness or keep anybody in the state of darkness. The question is drawing a line. In the name of transparency, you can't destroy the institution ...," Counsel had said.
Attorney General, K.K. Venugopal, who appeared for the Supreme Court General Secretary, had argued that disclosure of information on Collegium deliberations may affect judicial independence.
If information concerning Collegium functioning is put in the public domain, "great damage" will be done to the institution, Venugopal had added.
In November 2007, RTI activist, Subhash Chandra Aggarwal filed an RTI in the Supreme Court seeking information on judge’s assets, but the information was denied. Aggarwal then approached the Central Information Commission (CIC) which asked the Supreme Court to disclose information on the ground that Chief Justice of India's office comes within the ambit of the Act.
Tags : #Supreme Court of India #Delhi High Court #RTI Act