A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday commenced hearing on its own appeal whether the Chief Justice of India's office is covered under the purview of the transparency law -- Right to Information Act (RTI).
The issue that arose from an appeal filed by the Supreme Court 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.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, commencing his arguments on behalf of the Supreme Court, told the Bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice NV Ramana, Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjiv Khanna that disclosure of information on Collegium deliberations may affect judicial independence.
If information concerning Collegium functioning is put in public domain, "great damage" will be done to the institution, Venugopal added.
At the outset, the Attorney General explained to the Bench that there are three issues in the case, one is relating to disclosure of correspondence between Collegium and Centre. Second is relating to disclosure of assets of judges and third is about to disclosure of letters exchanged in the matter of appointment of a Madras High Court judge.
Venugopal said that on grounds of fiduciary capacity, RTI application with respect to judges can be rejected.
On disclosure of assets by the judges, the Attorney General said some of the judges have disclosed their assets, but added that it is personal information and affects the privacy of judges.
"However, it is a matter best left Your Lordships on whether such information should be disclosed in the interest of greater public interest," he added.
In November 2007, an RTI activist Subhash Chandra Aggarwal filed an RTI in the Supreme Court seeking information on judges' assets but the information was denied.
Aggarwal then approached the Central Information Commission (CIC) which asked the apex court to disclose information on the ground that Chief Justice of India's office comes within the ambit of the Act.
In January 2009, the top court had moved the Delhi High Court against the CIC order contending that declaration of assets by its judges to the Chief Justice of India is "personal information" which cannot be revealed under the RTI act and "too much transparency can affect the independence of the judiciary."
The Single Bench of High Court on September 2, 2009, had upheld CIC's order and said that the Chief Justice of India's office comes within the ambit of RTI Act and judges' assets be made public under the RTI Act.
Meanwhile, in another full court meeting, the top court passed a resolution to declare their assets "voluntarily" in public by publishing it on the official website.
The top court thereafter also challenged the single judge order before a division bench and the High Court decided to constitute a special three-judge bench to decide the issue.
The three-judge bench in November 2009 had observed that the resolution passed by the Supreme Court judges in 1997 for declaring their assets to Chief Justice of India was binding on them and in January 2010 it held that the office of CJI comes within the ambit of the RTI Act.
The apex court then filed the appeal against the three-judge bench of the High Court in the top court which has been pending in the Supreme Court since 2010. The top court decided to send the matter to the five-judge Constitution Bench.
Disclaimer: No Business Standard Journalist was involved in creation of this content