New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday held that the medical expenses incurred on judges and their family members cannot be disclosed or made public under the Right to Information Act.
A bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu refused to interfere with the Delhi High Court verdict which had dismissed a plea seeking details of medical reimbursements of Supreme Court judges, saying it had personal information and providing it would amount to invasion of their privacy.
"We understand that we are getting the reimbursement from public money for our treatment and we are entitled for it as per the service conditions of judges," the bench, which comprised justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy, observed.
The bench said, "there should be some respect for privacy and if such informations are being disclosed, there will be no stopping."
"Today he is asking informations for medical expenses. Tomorrow he will ask what are the medicines purchased by the judges. When there will be a list of medicines he can make out what type of ailment the judge is suffering from. It starts like this. Where does this stop," the bench further observed.
The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal against the April 17 judgement of a division bench of the High Court which had upheld decision of its single judge that the information about reimbursement of medical bills of judges and their families cannot be disclosed under RTI law.
The single judge had set aside the Central Information Commission's (CIC) direction holding that judges have to disclose such informations.
The apex court did not agree with advocate Prashant Bhushan that since citizens are entitled to know how public money is spent by other public servants, they also have a right to know how these funds were being utilised for medical treatment of judges.
The bench was unmoved by Bhushan's argument that when it comes to demand for providing information about politicians, bureaucrats and other public servants, the Supreme Court passes "good judgements" but there is an impression that same yardstick and principle is not applied when information relating to judges is sought under the transaparency law.
"The court sits in judgement on its own cause. The apparent conflict of interest arises," he submitted while adding that reimbursment of medical bills of judges comes from the Consolidated Fund of India.
"Can it then be said that reimbursment of medical bill from consolidated fund has no relation to public activity or public interest," the activist lawyer argued.
Bhushan said the case was important and sensitive because whatever would be applied to the judges would automatically set a precedent and applied to other public servants on the issue of medical bills.
"So can't say one law will apply to judges and other law will be applicable on other public servants. That will defeat the purpose of RTI law," he submitted, while adding that there was a plea for only seeking information on medical bills and not on the type of ailments.
He assailed the High Court decision which said that providing such information would lead to invasion of privacy.
"That is my (public) money which goes for reimbursment. Am I not entitled to how it is spend. How is this a invasion of privacy," he argued before the petition was dismissed.
The High Court had held that there was no larger public interest involved in seeking details of medical facilities availed by individual judges and no direction whatsoever can be issued under the RTI Act.
"The information sought by appellant includes details of the medical facilities availed by the individual judges. The same being personal information, we are of the view that providing such information would undoubtedly amount to invasion of their privacy.
"We have also taken note of the fact that it was conceded before the single judge by the appellant that no larger public interest is involved in seeking details of medical facilities availed by individual judges.
"...We are unable to understand how the public interest requires disclosure of the details of the medical facilities availed by the individual judges. In the absence of any such larger public interest, no direction whatsoever can be issued under the RTI Act by the appellate authorities," the High Court had said.
CIC had passed its order on Agarwal's plea against the apex court's response that it does not keep records of medical reimbursement of individual judges and declining to furnish him the information sought by him under the transparency law.
The Commission had in 2010, while asking the apex court's registry to make arrangements to maintain details of medical reimbursement made to judges, specified that the same be maintained in digital format so that their retrieval and disclosure could be easier.
However, the apex court had refused, citing a stay by the Delhi High Court in a similar case, prompting Agarwal to again approach CIC.
In its second order of 2012, CIC had directed the apex court to place the order before the Secretary General of the Supreme Court so that he can ensure its compliance.
It is against this order that the apex court registry had moved the High Court in appeal.