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Sunday 16 October 2011

Judiciary on the wrong side of RTI

Judiciary on the wrong side of RTI
Ashish Tripathi


Resistance to disclosure is a phenomenon that is confined not only to the executive. here have been instances where the judiciary has also shown that much of intransigence to the Right to Information Act.
It is no wonder that the Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia once said at a function that sunlight is a great disinfectant, but too much of it can burn one as well. Interestingly, in June this year, the office of the President decided to put the details of her wealth on the website, but it required a reminder from the Central Information Commission.

Before that, the President’s office refused divulge information on the wealth of the head of state, claiming that it was not maintained. As for the judiciary, no one can forget the kind of discussion and debates the issue of declaration of assets generated after the then Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan consistently took a position against any disclosure, apprehending that the move would affect independence of the institution. The details of the assets were put on the website in November 2009 only after a few High Court judges started taking positions publicly in favour of the proposition. 

Relevant here is to point out that the Central Information Commission had to issue direction to the Supreme Court registry in January 2009 for making public the judges’ assets, which was challenged before the Delhi High Court.

The Delhi High Court, however, held in January last year that the office of CJI comes under the RTI Act, rejecting the view of the SC that the information shared by apex court judges with the CJI could not be made public.

“Judicial independence is not a privilege to a judge but a responsibility,” the High Court said. When noted RTI activist Subhash C Agrawal filed an RTI application with the Supreme Court registry seeking information on medical expenses incurred on individual judges for last three years, he was provided with consolidated annual expenditure for whole staff and retired and present judges of Supreme Court in one single head for the period.

More reluctance

To his another query seeking details of the resolutions passed in the meetings of all the judges of the Supreme Court since March 1997, the Supreme Court registry provided him information merely on dates of such resolutions without copies and their subject-matter.
A Constitution bench in the Supreme Court is yet to be formed and decide the issue whether the letters exchanged among the authorities for appointment of a set of judges in the apex court allegedly by superseding others could be revealed under the RTI Act.

The Supreme Court’s registry challenged before the apex court an order passed by the CIC directing it to disclose “complete correspondence exchanged between concerned Constitutional authorities with file notings relating to appointment of Justice H L Dattu, Justice A K Ganguly and Justice R M Lodha, superseding seniority of Justice A P Shah, Justice A K Patnaik and Justice V K Gupta, as allegedly objected to (by) Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) also”.

The PMO had reportedly sent the collegium's recommendation back to the Supreme Court panel in 2008 by saying that then Delhi HC Chief Justice Shah, then Madhya Pradesh High Court Chief Justice Patnaik and then Uttarakhand HC Chief Justice Gupta were senior to Justices Dattu, Lodha and Ganguly.

But the Supreme Court collegium then headed by Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan had brushed aside the objections raised by the government and re-endorsed the names for appointment to the top court

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