Judicial Appointments Conundrum Post-NJAC Verdict

[op-ed snap] Letting in light

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Judicial accountability

Context

The Supreme Court’s decision to open the office of CJI to scrutiny under the Right to Information Act is welcome. The ruling comes nine years after the Delhi High Court ruled in favour of bringing CJI’s office under RTI. 

The judgement – accountability

  • The Court appeared as a litigant before its judicial avatar and argued against transparency and eventually ruled against itself. 
  • Supreme Court has insulated itself from public scrutiny and gives little insight into its own functioning.
  • The verdict pushes towards greater judicial accountability. 
  • The process of judicial appointments is often complicated by the reluctance of the court to make the reasons and compulsions behind its decisions public. 
  • While the government discloses its reasons for not accepting the collegium’s recommendations, the judiciary’s defence remains absent from the public debate.

Limited by

  • The verdict binds the court to accept applications seeking information but the process of obtaining it may not be easy. 
  • The ruling allows for an ordinary citizen to seek information on appointments, transfers of judges to the high courts and Supreme Court. 
  • But the reasons behind these recommendations could still be clouded in secrecy as the decisions of the collegium are largely based on reports of the Intelligence Bureau which is exempted from providing information under RTI. 
  • The verdict itself asks information commissioners to keep in mind the right to privacy and the independence of the judiciary while deciding on RTI requests. 
  • Justice NV Ramana cautions that the RTI must not be used as a tool of surveillance against the court.

Way ahead

  • The transition to transparency may not be easy. It hinges on the actions of the chief justice of India, as the administrative head of the court. 
  • Even when former CJI Dipak Misra decided that collegium decisions will be published on the Supreme Court website, CJI Ranjan Gogoi signalled a departure from the practice after 256 decisions were published. 
  • Just two months ago, the collegium issued an unusual statement that thought “it would not be in the interest of the institution to disclose the reasons for the transfer.”
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