Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has said that while the Supreme Court was well within its right to contest an order under the RTI Act asking whether its judges had revealed their assets to the Chief Justice,the order was something quite innocuous.
The only thing we wanted to ensure was if the courts,like all public bodies,are making information about the judges available,and are essentially under the ambit of the RTI, Habibullah told The Indian Express.
On January 6,the Central Information Commission had asked the Supreme Court to disclose,under the RTI Act,if judges of SC and HCs declared their assets. The apex court had appealed against the order to the Delhi HC,and the latter stayed it two days ago. The apex courts stand is that information relating to declaration of assets by the SC judges to the CJI is not a mandatory exercise under the law. However,a full court resolution of SC on May 7,1997,required every judge to declare to the CJI assets including properties or any other investment in the name of their spouse and any person dependent on them. Challenging the CIC order,the SC said the order is excessive and without jurisdiction and the appeal made a distinction between the apex court as an institution and the office of the CJI. Neither is the office of the CJI a public authority nor does the information relating to judges assets come in the public domain, the Supreme Court said.
The next hearing in the Delhi HC is on February 12. It is unclear who will represent the CIC,but it is looking to make its point that all public bodies,unless excluded by Section 8,are subject to the RTI,and cannot claim immunity.
Meanwhile,Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has said the judges of the higher judiciary should also be subjected to accountability on issues like the declaration of assets and on PILs. Referring to the controversy over declaration of assets by SC judges and the right of public to access this information,he said while even MPs were not required to make their assets public under law,when a law (RTI Act) was made,I respect the law. He said he had allowed access to information about MPs assets to anyone who sought it.