In a landmark verdict that will have far-reaching effects, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes under the ambit of RTI as it was a public authority. The top court junked the appeal filed by the Supreme Court Secretary General in holding office of the CJI amenable under the RTI. The verdict spoke about the conditional disclosure, right to privacy while adding judiciary's independence can also be furthered by proactive disclosure by judges. 'Transparency doesn’t undermine judicial independency', the Supreme Court says while upholding the Delhi High Court judgement which ruled that office of Chief Justice comes under the purview of Right to Information Act (RTI).
The RTI verdict was one of the key judgments that was delivered by outgoing Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Wednesday. The plea was filed by the Supreme Court secretary general against a January 2010 judgment of the Delhi high court which held the office of the CJI to be a “public authority” as per the definition provided by Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.
“Neither is RTI under Article 19 nor is the right to privacy absolute,” Justice Chandrachud added, saying that all judges and the CJI hold “constitutional positions”. A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi pronounced the judgment at 2.30 pm. The bench had heard civil appeals challenging the Delhi high court judgment. Other members of the bench were Justices NV Ramana, DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna. This bench comprises three future CJIs. A separate opinion was also read out by Justice Ramana, who said that the “RTI should not be allowed to be used as a tool of surveillance”.
In a landmark verdict on January 10, 2010, the Delhi high court had held that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) law, saying judicial independence was not a judge’s privilege, but a responsibility cast upon him. The 88-page judgment was then seen as a personal setback to the then CJI, KG Balakrishnan, who has been opposed to disclosure of information relating to judges under the RTI Act.
The high court verdict was delivered by a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice A.P. Shah (since retired) and Justices Vikramjit Sen and S Muralidhar. The bench had dismissed a plea of the Supreme Court that contended bringing the CJI’s office within the RTI Act would “hamper” judicial independence.
Justice Sen has retired as the judge of the apex court, while Justice Murlidhar is a sitting judge of the high court. The move to bring the office of the CJI under the transparency law was initiated by RTI activist S.C. Agrawal. His lawyer Prashant Bhushan had submitted in the top court that though the apex court should not have been judging its own cause, it is hearing the appeals due to “doctrine of necessity”.
The lawyer had described the reluctance of the judiciary in parting information under the Right To Information Act as “unfortunate” and “disturbing”, asking: “Do judges inhabit different universe?”
He had submitted that the apex court has always stood for transparency in the functioning of other organs of State, but it develops cold feet when its own issues require attention.
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