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Should SC Judges be under RTI ambit?

Should SC Judges be under RTI ambit?

Relevance:

  • GS 2 || Polity || Judiciary || Supreme Court

Why in news?

  • A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has finally concluded hearing a crucial appeal (after being nine years in cold storage) under the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005.

RTI cases on question

  • Appointment of judges: An RTI applicant filed a request to the Supreme Court in 2009 seeking a copy of the complete correspondence, with file notings, exchanged between the chief justice of India (CJI) and other concerned constitutional authorities relating to –
    • the appointment of Justice H.L. Dattu, Justice A. K. Ganguly and Justice R.M. Lodha as judges of the Supreme Court, superseding the seniority of Justice A.P. Shah, Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice V.K. Gupta.
  • The information sought was denied.
  • When the Central Information Commission (CIC) directed that the information be furnished, the information officer of the apex court appealed directly to the Supreme Court against the order.
  • Assets declaration: In the second case, the RTI applicant asked if any declaration of assets was ever filed by the judges of the Supreme Court or high courts to the respective CJIs.
    • The Supreme Court’s 1997 resolution requires judges to declare to the CJI the assets held by them in their own name, in the name of their spouse or any person dependent on them.
    • The information was denied but the CIC directed that the information sought by the applicant be provided.
    • The CIC order was challenged by the Supreme Court in the Delhi high court, which held that the contents of asset declarations were entitled to be treated as personal information under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, but since the applicant only sought to know whether the 1997 resolution was complied with, the sought information should be provided.
    • This judgement was subsequently challenged by the chief public information officer before the Supreme Court.

  • Influence on judgment: Quoting a media report, an RTI application was filed with the Supreme Court seeking copies of correspondence between the then CJI and a judge of the Madras high court regarding the attempt of a union minister to influence judicial decisions of the said high court.
    • The applicant also sought information regarding the name of the concerned union minister.
    • The CIC, in its order, overturned the decision of the public information officer, which denied the information sought.
    • Bypassing the Delhi high court, the public information officer of the Supreme Court directly moved a petition before the SC challenging the CIC order to disclose information.

Present case

  • In its order, the Supreme Court, while hearing the case related to correspondence between the CJI and other constitutional authorities about the appointment of judges, clubbed the other two cases with the matter.
  • The apex court order stated that the consideration of a larger bench was required as grave constitutional issues were at stake, including the need to balance the independence of the judiciary and the fundamental constitutional right of citizens to freedom of speech and expression.
  • One of the three crucial questions raised in this case pertains to whether judges are required to publicly disclose their assets under the RTI Act in light of Section 8(1)(j).
  • This provision prohibits the sharing of personal information that has no nexus to public activity or which amounts to an unwarranted invasion of privacy unless the larger public interest justifies such a disclosure.

Additional info

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  • The Central Information Commission has been constituted under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
  • The jurisdiction of the Commission extends over all Central Public Authorities.
  • The Commission has certain powers and functions which broadly relate to –
    • adjudication in second appeal for giving information;
    • direction for record keeping,
    • suo motu disclosures
    • receiving and enquiring into a complaint on inability to file RTI etc;
    • imposition of penalties and Monitoring and Reporting including preparation of an Annual Report.
  • The decisions of the Commission are final and binding.

Mains question

  • With the allegations made recently about the judiciary’s functioning, the RTI Act would serve as a master tool, making the justice delivery mechanism more immune to political pressure and accountable to the people. Comment.