RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] Open, all the same

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Judicial transparency

Context

Sunlight is the best disinfectant that is often used to highlight the need for disclosure of matters related to the public interest through the RTI mechanism. 

Examples of transparency

  • The declaration of assets by ministers and legislators, besides electoral candidates, has shed light on public authorities.
  • It provided the citizenry with more relevant information about their representatives. 

Judicial transparency

  • Judges of the Supreme Court had refused to share information on their personal assets, citing the lack of public interest. 
  • 5-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a “public authority” under the RTI Act.
  • It enables the disclosure of information such as the judges’ personal assets. 
  • The judgment’s majority opinion emphasised the need for transparency and accountability and that “disclosure is a facet of public interest”. 
  • They asserted that judicial independence was not secured by secrecy and argued for the need for proper calibration of transparency in light of the importance of judicial independence.

Balance with the right to privacy

  • The Bench argued that the right to know under the RTI Act was not absolute.
  • It had to be balanced with the right to privacy of judges. 
  • The key takeaway from the judgment is that disclosure of the details of serving judges’ personal assets was not a violation of their right to privacy.

Other parts of the judgement

  • Information related to issues such as judicial appointments will also be subject to the test of public interest and procedures mandated in the RTI Act that specifies that views of third parties must be sought. 
  • It lays out the importance of the assessment of public interest in an RTI query.
  • The RTI Act is a strong weapon that enhances accountability, citizen activism, and participatory democracy even if its implementation has come under strain in recent years.

Conclusion

  • The Supreme Court judgment paves the way for greater transparency.
  • It could impinge upon issues such as disclosure under the RTI Act by other institutions such as registered political parties. 
  • This is vital as political party financing is a murky area today, marked by opacity and exacerbated by the issue of electoral bonds, precluding citizens from being fully informed on sources of party income.
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