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Video Summary

[RSTV The Big Picture] CJI under RTI

Transparency and accountability should go hand in hand, said the Supreme court judges while upholding the Delhi high court verdict which said that Supreme Court is a ‘public authority’ and the office of the CJI comes under RTI.
By IT's Video Summary Team
November 27, 2019

Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Delhi High Court order
  • Background
  • Section 2H of RTI act
  • Why CJI should be put under RTI?
  • Suggestions
  • Conclusion

[RSTV The Big Picture] CJI under RTI

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Introduction

Recently, the Supreme Court of India has upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court Verdict and ruled that the office of Chief Justice of India (CJI) 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. However, it also said that RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance.

The Delhi High Court order

  • In a landmark verdict in 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.
  • It held that the SC CJI office is public authority within the meaning of section 2H under the RTI act 2005.

Background

  • The exercise of declaring assets started in 1997, when the Supreme Court adopted in a ‘Full Court Resolution’ that all judges must declare their assets, including that of their spouse and dependents within a reasonable time of assuming office. Such declaration should be made to the Chief Justice India. The Chief Justice should make a similar declaration. All such declaration will be
  • In 2007, RTI activist Subhash C Aggarwal files a plea in the Supreme Court seeking information on judges’ assets. But Information was denied in the reply to him. As a result, he approaches CIC (Central Information Commission).
  • CIC asks SC to disclose information on Judges’ assets on the ground that CJI’s office comes within the ambit of RTI Act.
  • However, SC moves Delhi HC against CIC order saying that declaration of assets by its judges to the Chief Justice are ‘personal’ information which cannot be revealed under the RTI Act and its judges, not averse to declaring their assets and Parliament, can enact a law pertaining to such declaration but it must be ensured that the law is not misused.
  • However, HC of Delhi observes that full Court Resolution of 1997 is binding on SC judges and said that the office of CJI comes within the ambit of the RTI Act.
  • Then SC refers the matter to a Constitution bench. On Nov 13, 2019 SC upholds 2010 Delhi High Court verdict and holds that office of the CJI is a public authority and falls within the ambit of RTI.

Section 2H of RTI act

  • The section 2H defines what is public authority and does not applied to private authority.

Public authority means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted—

(a) by or under the Constitution;

(b) by any other law made by Parliament/State legislature

(c) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government,

and includes any—

(i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed;

(ii) non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;

Why CJI should be put under RTI?

  • There were serious questions raised against the functioning of Supreme Court. This case is pending since a decade, and questions the transparency, creditability, nature of functioning of SC, the way collegium is functioning.
  • CJI is appointed under Article 124 of the constitution. Hence, the office of CJI automatically becomes public authority within RTI act.
  • Anybody can be seeking any information regarding SC judiciary because judicial part is only part that is open in the court and rest of the things are supposed to be secret and only out when judgement pronounced. 
  • There was a resolution adopted by SC judges that they will declare their assets to CJI and now that becomes information under RTI so CJI office has to be under RTI.
  • The function of the judiciary is to dispense justice, CJI is the head and master of the justice system in India.
  • In the case of elected representative, SC said that its incumbent upon them to declare their assets, liabilities, educational qualification, criminal incident if any. They have to declare these because people have right to know and constitution has declared the RTI as a part of Article 19(1a).

CIC will have to see whether the information can be given or not to be given. SC said that the information commissioner must apply the proportionality while entertaining application seeking information from CJI office, keeping in mind right to privacy and independent to judiciary.

Suggestions

  • In this issue, right to information and right to privacy are similar to both side of a coin and balance between these two have to maintain.
  • Indian pendency of judiciary cannot be used as a tool to stall all the reforms of the judiciary. Judiciary should be slightly circumspect while using the phrase independent of judiciary.
  • Judicial independency and accountability have to go hand in hand while solving such issues.
  • Judiciary should not operate as extra-legal or extra state authority under the Constitution.
  • If there is any information under public authority which is rendered and amenable to disclose to the public and is capable to being used by anyone, so why should this issue is not with judges or member of the judiciary.

Conclusion

Creditability of institution is depended on public faith. So in this case the interpretation changes, when the subject changes and Question remains what is the priority of SC while Preserving Judicial independency and advancing transparency.

So the issue would be solving in a way that every logical basis, constitution basis, legal basis is to be considered. The answer to above such issues lies in addressing the problem considering every logical, constitutional and legal basis.

Independence of judiciary is not the privilege, but this cast the responsibility of office of CJI to give the information under RTI act.

 

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