New Delhi, Nov 13: The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that the office of the Chief Justice of India was a public authority and fell within the ambit of the Right to Information Act.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court verdict and dismissed three appeals filed by Secretary General of the Supreme Court and the Central Public Information officer of the apex court.
Cautioning that RTI could be used as a tool of surveillance, the top court in its judgment, held that judicial independence had to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency.
The bench, also comprising Justices N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, said only the names of judges recommended by the Collegium for appointment could be disclosed, not the reasons.
While the CJI and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna penned one judgment, Justices Ramana and Chandrachud wrote separate verdicts.
It said that the Right to Privacy was an important aspect and it had to be balanced with transparency while deciding to give out information from the office of the Chief Justice. Justice Chandrachud said the judiciary could not function in total insulation as judges enjoy constitutional posts and discharge public duty.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna said independence of the judiciary and transparency went hand in hand.
Justice Ramana, who concurred with Justice Khanna, said there should be a balancing formula for Right to Privacy and right to transparency and independence of judiciary should be protected from breach.
The High Court on January 10, 2010 had held that the CJI office came within the ambit of the RTI law, saying judicial independence was not a judge’s privilege, but a responsibility cast upon him.
The 88-page judgment was seen as a personal setback to the then CJI, K G 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 has retired from 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 was hearing the appeals due to the “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 a different universe?”
He had submitted the apex court had always stood for transparency in functioning of other organs of State, but it developed cold feet when its own issues required attention. Referring to the RTI provisions, Bhushan had said they also deal with exemptions and information that cannot be given to applicants, but the public interest should always ‘outweigh’ personal interests if the person concerned is holding or about to hold a public office. Dealing with ‘judicial independence’, he said the National Judicial Accountability Commission Act was struck down for protecting the judiciary against interference from the executive, but this did not mean that judiciary is free from ‘public scrutiny’.
Transparency activists on Wednesday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, saying the apex court had reiterated the established position in law in the matter.
“I welcome the decision of the constitution bench to reiterate the established position in law that the CJI is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act,” said Venkatesh Nayak, head of access to information programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an NGO.
About the Supreme Court’s remark that RTI could not be used as a tool of surveillance, Nayak termed it as an “extremely unfortunate” observation. “Surveillance has unfortunately been equated with transparency that is required under a law duly passed by Parliament,” he told PTI.
Nayak said surveillance was what the government often does under executive instructions and that was not the purpose of the RTI Act. “People whose cases relating to their life, liberty, property and rights, are decided by the high courts and the Supreme Court. People have the right to know not only the criteria but all material that formed the basis of making the decision regarding appointments of judges in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act,” he said.
Nayak said where exemptions were available under the RTI Act, they would be legitimately invoked by public authorities and all other information should be in the public domain. He said the appointment of judges, who were public functionary, was a public act.
“People have the right to know everything that is done in a public way by a government, in a democratic country, which must be accountable and responsible,” Nayak said. Former information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi also hailed the top court’s decision. “I had expected the same decision to come as logically there was nothing else. It is unfortunate that this has taken 10 years. The CIC has upheld this. The Delhi HC had also upheld this. Now, the SC has upheld this. All public servants that are paid by the government are a public service, no matter what the position is. You need to be accountable for your work. I congratulate the Chief Justice and the court for having given such a decision,” he said.
RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal lauded the top court’s verdict. “I welcome the Supreme Court’s verdict. It is a victory of the RTI Act,” he said.
Another activist Ajay Dubey said the apex court’s decision was ‘historic’. “It is a historic decision and I welcome it. All decisions made by a public authority must be in public domain and under the RTI Act,” he said.
Dubey, however, expressed shock over the top court’s remark that the RTI Act cannot be used as a tool of surveillance.
J&K govt to take call on release of political leaders, no interference from us: Shah
New Delhi, Dec 10: Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday said the local administration of Jammu and Kashmir will take a call on the release of detained political leaders in the valley and the Centre won’t interfere in the process.
Shah said the government has no intention to keep any leader under custody for a single day more than required.
“..it is for local administration to decide when political leaders will be released. We don’t want to keep anyone (leaders) in jail even for a day more than what is required. As and when the local administration feels the time is appropriate, they will be released. There will be no interference from our side,” Shah said.
He was responding to a question by Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir and detention of political leaders.
Taking on the Congress, Shah said, Farooq Abdullah is in custody for six months but the Congress had kept his father in custody for 11 years.
“Farooq Abdullah’s father was kept in jail for 11 years by the Congress. We don’t want to follow them and as soon as the administration decides, they will be released,” he said.
He further said all leaders should be concerned about political leaders in the valley, he is also concerned but if leaders are more worried about people of Kashmir it will send a better message.
Underlining that the situation is completely normal in the valley, Shah said, “99.5 per cent students of the eleventh class sat for exams there, but for Adhir Ranjan Ji this is not normalcy, seven lakh people availed OPD services in Srinagar, Section 144 removed from everywhere. But for Adhir Ji the only parameter for normalcy is political activity.”
Earlier Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy, responding to a supplementary question by Sridhar Kotagiri, said stone-pelting incidents have decreased substantially in 2019.
In 2018, 802 such incidents were reported which reduced to 544 in 2019, while only 190 stone-pelting incidents were reported since August 5, Reddy said.
All leading English, Urdu newspapers and TV channels are working in the valley, he said.
Committee to examine academic arrangement system
Srinagar, Dec 10: Government has constituted a five-member committee to examine all the aspects related to the hiring and remuneration of academic arrangements in various departments.
The committee, as per an official order, will be chaired by Financial Commissioner of Finance department with Secretary Higher Education Department as its Member Secretary, and Financial Commissioner, Health and Medical Education Department, and Secretaries School Education and Technical Education departments as its members.
The committee has been asked to look into all aspects of academic arrangements made in various departments from time to time.
“It shall inspect the mode of hiring teaching faculty and their duration for the academic year and what will be their source of funding,” reads the order.
Government has directed the committee to suggest a common approach to address the challenges faced by the departments on account of academic arrangements.
“The committee shall be authorized to co-opt any expert in its deliberations,” the order says.
The committee, the order says, will function under the higher education department and shall submit the report and recommendation, observed during the inspection of the department, to the government by January 10.
Each year, the government hires services of hundreds of teachers on academic arrangement basis in higher education department.
In most of the colleges in Kashmir, these teachers outnumber the permanent staff members.
Last week, Lt. Governor, GC Murmu reviewed the functioning and problems prevailing in higher education department.
Besides, the Lt. Governor asked the concerned department to frame a comprehensive recruitment policy to rationalize the recruitment process.
“The higher officials have been directed to resolve all the seniority and recruitment issues in the Higher Education Department at the earliest to remove the entire bottleneck prevailing in the department,” Murmu had directed.
Life in times of fog:Zero visibility, no flights
Srinagar, Dec 10: For the fifth straight day, dense fog and poor visibility forced the cancelation of all 27 flights at Srinagar International Airport.
With this, the total number of flights cancelled due to poor visibility has crossed 116 in the last four days.
Twenty eight flights were cancelled on Monday. On Sunday, Saturday and Friday, poor visibility at the airport led to the cancellation of 26, 24 and 11 flights, respectively.
An official at Srinagar airport said there was zero visibility at the airport on Tuesday and with the result all flight operations were suspended.
“Unfortunately, all the flights got cancelled today as well. The prevailing conditions didn’t suit the operation of flights as the visibility recorded on Tuesday was zero,” he said.
Director Airport Authority of India (AAI) Santosh Dokay told The Kashmir Monitor, visibility at the runway was less than 50 meters due to the dense fog.
“At least one kilometer visibility is required for flight operation but currently we have a visibility up to 50 meters. Even zero visibility was recorded in the morning. It could lead to accidents if a plane lands or takes-off under these conditions,” he said.
What has compounded the problem is that despite upgrading Instrumental Landing System (ILS), flight operations continue to remain hit.
“We do have an ILS, which was upgraded recently and an Approach Lighting System (ALS) was also installed. The visibility range at the runway has been improved to 1000meters from two kilometers. But the kind of fog witnessed this year hasn’t been witnessed before. It is unprecedented and persists through the day,” Dokay said.
Due to frequent cancellation of flights, scores of the passengers had to return their homes on the fourth consecutive day. “Every year we have to face the situation when flights get cancelled for weeks together. Many among us have to visit outside state for medical reasons. Every time flights don’t take off,” said Aijaz Ahmad Ganie, who had to take her mother for a checkup to New Delhi.
Meteorological Department (MeT), has forecasted dense fog till Wednesday across the valley.