Related Topic in KAS Prelims Syllabus:
Indian Constitution, Political System and Governance [Paper-I]: Public Policy and Governance, Judiciary in India
- A five-judge Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi declared that the Office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a ‘public authority’ under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
- The move to bring the office of the CJI under the transparency law was initiated by RTI activist S C Agarwal.
CJI: A Public Authority under RTI Act
- The main judgment of the Constitution Bench declared that 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 Court also observed that increased transparency under RTI was no threat to judicial independence and judicial independence is not secured by the secrecy of enclosed hall.
- The Bench upheld the Delhi High Court judgment of 2010 that the CJI does not hold information on the personal assets of fellow judges in a fiduciary capacity.
- Information held by a person in a fiduciary capacity is exempt from disclosure under RTI.
Not Absolute Right
- According to the judgment, the right to know under RTI was not absolute.
- The right to know of a citizen ought to be balanced with the right to privacy of individual judges.
- Right to information should not be allowed to be used as a tool of surveillance.
- Personal information of judges should only be disclosed under RTI if such disclosure served the larger public interest.
Disclosure of Personal Information
- The disclosure of personal information was discretionary under Section 8(1) (j) of the RTI Act. The statute has given the discretion to the Public Information Officer (PIO).
- The information about assets of judges and official communication during the process of elevation of judges to the Supreme Court are treated as confidential third-party information.
- In such scenario, the PIO should follow the procedure mandated in Section 11 of the RTI Act.
- The Court also listed certain “non-exhaustive factors” for the PIO to consider while deciding whether the information sought was private.
- These factors included various criteria from the nature of the information sought to its impact on the private life of the judge.
- RTI is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution.
- The landmark judgment has reiterated the established position that “no one is above the law“.
- It will set an example for government bodies which are resisting to be brought under the RTI Act.
- The most well-known holdouts are political parties, but a number of schools, trusts and public-private partnerships have also resisted categorisation as public authorities under the Act.
- The verdict is a great step towards transparency and trust of people in justice system.
- It underlines the balance Supreme Court needs between transparency and protecting its independence.
- The step is significant because it opens the doors to RTI requests that will test the frontiers of what has been a rather opaque system.
[Source: The Hindu, Indian Express]