SC to decide whether CJI is under RTI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court will pronounce on Wednesday its verdict on petitions challenging the Delhi High Court decision bringing the office of the chief justice of India under the ambit of the Right to Information Act.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi will pronounce the judgement at 2 pm. Other members of the bench are Justices NV Ramana, DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.

The notice regarding the pronouncement of the judgement was made public on the apex court's official website on Tuesday afternoon.

A five-judge constitution bench had on April 4 reserved its verdict on the appeals filed against the high court and the central information commission's orders.

The bench, headed by the chief justice, had wrapped up the hearing, saying nobody wants a "system of opaqueness", but the judiciary cannot be destroyed in the name of transparency.

"Nobody wants to remain in a state of darkness or keep anybody in a state of darkness," it had said. "The question is where to draw a line. In the name of transparency, you can't destroy the institution."

In a landmark verdict on January 10, 2010, the Delhi High Court had held that the office of the chief justice of India comes within the ambit of the Right to Informationlaw, saying judicial independence was not a judge's privilege, but a responsibility cast upon him.

The 88-page judgement was then seen as a personal setback to the then CJI, K G Balakrishnan, who has been opposed to disclosure of information relating to judges under the RTI Act.

The move to bring the office of the CJI under the transparency law was initiated by RTI activist S C Agrawal. His lawyer Prashant Bhushan had submitted in the top court that though the apex court should not be judging its own cause, it is hearing the appeals due to "doctrine of necessity".

The lawyer had described the reluctance of the judiciary in parting information under the Right to Information Act as "unfortunate" and "disturbing", asking: "Do judges inhabit different universe?"

He had submitted that the apex court has always stood for transparency in functioning of other organs of State, but it develops cold feet when its own issues require attention.

Referring to RTI provisions, Bhushan had said they also deal with exemptions and information that cannot be given to applicants, but the public interest should always "outweigh" personal interests if the person concerned is holding or about to hold a public office.

Dealing with "judicial independence", he said the National Judicial Accountability Commission Act was struck down for protecting the judiciary against interference from the executive, but this did not mean that judiciary is free from "public scrutiny".

"This is not the independence from accountability. Independence of judiciary means it has to be independent from the executive and not independent from common public. People are entitled to know as to what public authorities are doing," Bhushan had said.

The deliberations of the collegium in appointing and overlooking judges or lawyers should be made public and information can be parted with under RTI on case-to-case basis keeping in mind the larger public interest, the lawyer had said.

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