Judicial Reforms

CJI’s office comes under ambit of RTI Act, SC says

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Public Office, RTI Act

Mains level : Read the attached story

The office of the Chief Justice of India is a public authority and falls under the ambit of Right to Information Act, the Supreme Court ruled today.

What’s the issue?

  • The five-judge bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justices N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna passed the judgment on an appeal filed by the Supreme Court administration.
  • The appeal challenged the 2010 order of the Delhi high court which held that the CJI’s office comes under the ambit of the Right to Information Act.
  • Oppositions to the plea had contended that courts had time and again given a slew of directions to infuse transparency in the functioning of various institutions.
  • The bench had agreed that there should be transparency, but added there was a need to do balancing.

Who is a “Public Authority”?

In 2011, the Punjab-Haryana High Court while deciding on 24 civil writ petitions against the Central/State Information Commissioners had held that if any person, or body, satisfies the following conditions then it would “squarely fall within the ambit and scope of definition of ‘public authorities'” and would be “legally required to impart the indicated information as envisaged under the RTI Act” –

  • the institution cannot come into existence and function unless registered and regulated by the provisions of a legislation; or
  • the State Government has some degree of control over it through the medium of Acts/Rules; or
  • it is substantially financed by means of funds provided directly, or indirectly, by the appropriate Government; or
  • the mandate and command of the provisions of the RTI Act along with its Preamble, aims, objects and regime extends to their public dealing; or
  • the larger public interest and totality of the other facts and circumstances emanating from the records suggest that such information may be disclosed.

The Delhi High Court order

  • In a landmark verdict on January 10, 2010, the Delhi High Court had held that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes within the ambit of the RTI law.
  • It said that the judicial independence was not a judge’s privilege, but a responsibility cast upon him.
  • The 88-page judgment was then seen as a personal setback to the then CJI, KG Balakrishnan, who has been opposed to disclosure of information relating to judges under the RTI Act.

RTI < < Judiciary

  • The apex court said that the right to privacy and confidentiality is an important aspect and has to be balanced while taking a decision on giving out information from the CJI’s office.
  • The CJI-led bench added that transparency cannot be allowed to run counter to right to privacy.
  • The bench said that the information commissioner must apply test of proportionality while entertaining applications seeking information from the CJI’s office.
  • However it must keep in mind right to privacy and independence of judiciary.
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