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Friday, December 06, 2019

Verdict bringing CJI under RTI comes 10 years after first plea denied

The appeals arose from applications by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi | Updated: November 14, 2019 3:20:40 am
The Supreme Court Wednesday ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India was a public authority. (File)

Wednesday’s Supreme Court judgment bringing the office of the Chief Justice of India under the Right to Information (RTI) Act came on three appeals filed by its Secretary General and Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) against the order of Central Information Commission (CIC) and the Delhi High Court.

The appeals arose from applications by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal.

On July 6, 2009, Agarwal had moved an application before the top court’s CPIO, seeking a copy of the “complete correspondence with then Chief Justice of India as the Times of India had reported that a Union Minister had approached, through a lawyer, Justice R Reghupathi of the High Court of Madras to influence his judicial decisions”.

The SC registry denied it on the ground that the information sought was not handled and dealt with by the Registry of the Supreme Court and the information relating to it was neither maintained nor available with it. After Agarwal’s first appeal was dismissed, on his second appeal the CIC directed that the information be furnished.

Read | Timeline of events in office of Chief Justice of India falling under RTI Act case

Agarwal filed a second application on January 23, 2009, before the CPIO seeking a copy of complete file/papers as available with the apex court, including copies of complete correspondence exchanged between the constitutional authorities concerned with file notings relating to appointment of Justices H L Dattu, A K Ganguly and R M Lodha, superseding seniority of Justices A P Shah, A K Patnaik and V K Gupta, “which was allegedly objected to by the Prime Minister”.

The CPIO denied this information observing that the registry did not deal with the matters pertaining to appointment of SC judges. It said that appointment of judges to Supreme Court and High Courts are made by the President as per procedure. On further appeal, the CIC accepted the appeal and directed furnishing of information.

In November 2007, Agarwal also sought information on declaration of assets made by judges to the Chief Justices in the States.

This was dismissed by the SC CPIO “stating that information relating to declaration of assets of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts was not held by or was not under control of the Registry of the Supreme Court”.

On first appeal, the appellate authority directed that the matter be remitted to the SC CPIO to follow the procedure under RTI Act and to inform Agarwal about the authority holding the information sought for.

The CPIO subsequently asked him to approach the CPIO of High Courts, following which Agarwal appealed before the CIC. The CIC allowed the appeal.

Later appeals by the CPIO to Delhi High Court were also decided in Agarwal’s favour.

On Wednesday, the apex court upheld the CIC order, directing its CPIO “to furnish information on the judges of Supreme Court who had declared their assets”. The court said “such disclosure would not, in any way, impinge upon personal information and right to privacy of the judges”.

On the other applications, the court allowed them partly with an order of remit to the CPIO to re-examine the matter after following the procedure under RTI Act, as the information relates to third parties.

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