Supreme Court reserves verdict on applicability of RTI to CJI

Supreme Court reserves verdict on applicability of RTI to CJI

Shruti Mahajan

The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court today reserved its judgment in the petitions concerning bringing the office of the Chief Justice of India under the Right to Information Act (RTI).

The matter was heard by a Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices NV Ramana, DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta, and Sanjiv Khanna.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan made his submissions today on behalf of the respondent, RTI Activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal.  Yesterday, the Attorney General KK Venugopal had argued on behalf of the Supreme Court.

The questions before the Court included:

  • whether the office of Chief Justice of India would come within the ambit of the RTI Act;
  • whether the communications between Collegium and Govt and file noting of the Collegium would be covered under the RTI Act.

It was argued by Bhushan that the decision of the seven-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the SP Gupta case would be binding. He submitted that the SP Gupta judgment had laid down that non-disclosure of information relating to communication between the Court and Government would cause great harm to the public and thus, the disclosure of such information was essential.

When it came to the candidates being considered for the post of judges, the public is entitled to know what the various agencies are saying about these candidates.

While admitting that the RTI Act provides for exempting public information from being disclosed, Bhushan took opposition to Venugopal’s argument on seeking a class exemption for correspondence. He argued that “specifics” of personal information can be withheld while the rest of the information can be placed in the public domain. To buttress his submission, Bhushan cited the recent judgment of the Supreme Court in the case relating to appointment of Information Commissioners wherein a Bench led by Justice AK Sikri had directed that the process to be made transparent.

Bhushan highlighted the role the Courts have played in bringing in transparency in public discourse while also pointing out the fact that the inner workings of the Courts and the Collegium remain secret with only a handful of persons being in the know-how of the same.

“Process of appointment and transfers is shrouded in mystery. It remains a sacred ritual and its mystery confined to a handful of people. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the process may on occasion result in wrong appointment or transfer and may lead to nepotism.”

Opacity in the process of appointment of judges can lead to nepotism and arbitrariness, he contended and supported his argument by citing the minority judgment of Justice Jasti Chelameswar in the NJAC case. CJI Gogoi, rebutted this argument by saying,

“Nobody is for a system of opaqueness. Nobody wants to be in the darkness and nobody wants to keep anyone in the darkness”

Explaining the case made by Venugopal against full disclosure of correspondence to Bhushan, CJI Gogoi said that full disclosure could be counterproductive at times. Many individuals are opting out of being appointed as judges due to the fear of information, good or bad, being put in public domain, CJI Gogoi said.

CJI Gogoi also explained the process the Collegium has adopted in its selection process and said that the Collegium sources its information from various sources and again re-verifies this information. A balance has to be maintained, the CJI maintained.

On the issue of disclosing the name of the Minister who allegedly attempted to influence a Judge of the Madras High Court, there appeared to be a consensus between the parties given that Venugopal too had favoured revealing the name.

After two days of arguments from both the sides, the Court reserved its judgment in the case.

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