RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- CJI UNDER RTI
Supreme Court has upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court Verdict and ruled that the office of Chief Justice of India is a public authority under the right to information Act. The five judge bench led by Chief Justice of India highlighted the importance of transparency in the judiciary and said right to privacy and confidentiality is an important aspect . Apex court also held that judicial independence has to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency.
Declaring that “transparency doesn’t undermine judicial independence“, the Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi today rejected the contention of the Supreme Court that had challenged a Delhi High Court judgment bringing it under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
It is not a regular phenomenon when the Supreme Court fights a case as one of the litigants. “It is not rarest of rare but yes, a rarer thing when Supreme Court is involved in a case as a litigant.
The function of the judiciary is to deliver justice and the CJI is the head of the institution. In his office various information pertaining to various judges are there. The provisions of the RTI act is very clear with regard to such institutions. The CJI’s office will now come under RTI ambit.
- 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.
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.
The verdict by SC:
- The Supreme Court is a “public authority” and the office of the CJI is part and parcel of the institution. Hence, if the Supreme Court is a public authority, so is the office of the CJI.
- The judiciary cannot function in total insulation as judges enjoy a constitutional post and discharge public duty.
- However, Right to Privacy is an important aspect and has to be balanced with transparency while deciding to give out information from the office of the Chief Justice of India.
- RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance and that judicial independence has to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency.
Right to Information Act 2005 mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information. It replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002.
- The Act applies to all States and Union Territories of India
- Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) is set up under the Right to Information Act and is the authorised body, established in 2005, under the Government of India.
- The Chief Information Commissioner heads the Central Information Commission, the body that hears appeals from information-seekers who have not been satisfied by the public authority, and also addresses major issues concerning the RTI Act.
Who is Public Authority?
As defined in Section 2 (h) “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self Government established or constituted –
- By or under the constitution
- By any other law made by Parliament
- By any other law made by State Legislature
- By notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any
- body owned, controlled or substantially financed
- non-Government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government”
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