Stating that it was for transparency in judicial appointments, the Supreme Court on Thursday said that “somewhere a line has to be drawn” on how much information regarding the process can be made public lest it affect the institution itself.
“Nobody is for a system of opaqueness. Nobody wants to remain in darkness. Nobody wants to keep anyone in darkness. The question is where do we draw a line? Somewhere a line has to be drawn. In the name of transparency, you cannot destroy the institution,” Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi heading a five-judge Constitution Bench told advocate Prashant Bhushan.
The CJI rued that “every decision (of the Collegium) is painted with a brush which it shouldn’t be”, and that “there should be some level of trust”.
The bench, also comprising Justices N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, was hearing an appeal by its Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) against the January 2010 ruling of the Delhi High Court which held that the apex court and Chief Justice of India are “public authorities” under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The court reserved its judgment in the matter.
CJI Gogoi said the SC Collegium was of late experiencing many good people being considered as judges withdrawing their consent. “Interactions the CJI had with them showed this was because of the possibility of negative things, rightly or wrongly, being brought into public domain. It affects their professional life, family life. In the end not only do they not become a judge, but their personal life is also affected,” he said.
The HC had upheld an order of the Central Information Commission directing the Supreme Court CPIO to provide information sought by an applicant Subhash Chandra Agarwal regarding assets of SC judges.
The High Court ruling relied on the 1981 decision of a seven-judge SC Constitution bench in S P Gupta Vs Union of India, popularly known as judges transfer case.
On Thursday, the CJI pointed out that the Gupta judgment was before the RTI Act and there was a new regime in place now. “We (Collegium) spend 10 to 15 minutes with each candidate (considered for elevation). Why are we doing it? Do you know from how many sources we verify the information? Do you know from how many sources we reverify the information?” he said.
Bhushan insisted that the process should still be open to public scrutiny.
CJI Gogoi cited the example of a district judge who was proposed for elevation as HC Judge but eventually failed to make it. Because of this becoming public, he also lost the extension he was due for as district judge, the court said.
Bhushan said although this was a genuine case, there could be instances where a candidate loses out because of some animosity the CJI may have for him.
The bench took exception to this comment, saying “nobody, much less the CJI, has any animus against any judge. We are not prepared to assume that any judge has animus towards anybody”.