Supreme Court brings Chief Justice of India’s office under RTI Act

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the office of the Chief Justice of India was public authority under the purview of the transparency law, Right to Information Act (RTI).

“The CJI is within the public authority. The Right to Information and Right to Privacy are two sides of the same coin,” the court said in a majority judgement upholding the Delhi High Court’s ruling.

The top court also said the RTI Act could be used as a tool of surveillance.

Stating that method of appointment had an impact on the independence of the judiciary, the apex court said only names of judges recommended by the Collegium could be disclosed, not reasons.

The court directed that appointment in tribunals should be in accordance with respective statutes.

The five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, led Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, upheld the Delhi High Court judgement which had ruled that the office of the Chief Justice came under the purview of the Right to Information Act (RTI). The top court ruled on Wednesday that “transparency doesn’t undermine judicial independency”.

In a landmark verdict on January 10, 2010, the Delhi High Court had held that judicial independence was not a judge’s privilege, but a responsibility cast upon him. The 88-page judgement was then seen as a personal setback to the then CJI KG Balakrishnan, who had 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 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 functioning of other organs of State, but it develops cold feet when its own issues require attention.