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
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.
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
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
Khanna said independence of the judiciary and transparency went hand in hand.
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.
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
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
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’.
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.
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
“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,”
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.
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.
expressed shock over the top court’s remark that the RTI Act cannot be used as
a tool of surveillance.