New Delhi: Upholding the Delhi High Court verdict, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) comes under the Right To Information (RTI) Act.
According to the court, the judges coming under the RTI Act won't undermine the judiciary.
Observing that public interest demands that transparency is maintained, the apex court ruled that judicial independence and accountability go hand in hand.
"Transparency doesn’t undermine judicial independence," the apex court said.
The verdict was pronounced by a five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, and comprising Justices NV Ramana, DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.
The judgement was reserved on April 4 on appeals filed in 2010 by secretary general of the Supreme Court and its central public information officer challenging the Delhi High Court and the Central Information Commission's (CIC's) orders.
The court had observed that the judiciary cannot be destroyed for the sake of transparency, though insisting that nobody wants a system of opaqueness. The bench had said, "Nobody wants to remain in the state of darkness or keep anybody in the same...but, the question which is before us is that in the name of transparency, you can`t destroy the institution."
In 2010, in an unprecedented judgement, the Delhi High Court had ruled the RTI is applicable to the Chief Justice. The High Court observed that judicial independence was not a judge's privilege, but a responsibility cast upon him. This judgement was construed as a personal attack on the then Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, who had objected to divulging information in connection with judges under the RTI Act.
RTI activist SC Agrawal initiated the proceedings to bring the Chief Justice office under the transparency law. Prashant Bhushan, representing Agarwal, had contended in the apex court the top court should not judge its own cause.
Bhushan insisted that the judiciary should not object to divulging the information, as the judges do not exist in different universe, and instead support transparency. He had said the public interest should be prioritized in comparison with personal interests if the person concerned is holding a public office.
Bhushan insisted the judiciary is not free from "public scrutiny". He had also pointed out at the deliberations of the Supreme Court Collegium to be brought under the RTI on a case-to-case basis keeping in mind public interest.
Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal, who was representing Supreme Court`s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), had submitted that sharing information connected with Collegium, which is under the CJI office, would make judges and the government shy and destroy judicial independence. The CPIO is the authority tasked to respond to RTI queries related to the court.
The issue arose from an appeal filed by the Supreme Court Secretary-General against the January 2010 judgement of the Delhi High Court that declared the CJI`s office a "public authority" within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.
(With IANS inputs)