NEW DELHI: The right to information should not be allowed to be used as a tool of surveillance to scuttle effective functioning of the judiciary, Justice N V Ramana said while holding that office of the CJI is a public authority and falls within the ambit of the RTI Act.
He also stressed that the institution (judiciary) needs to be protected from the attempts to breach its independence. Penning down a separate but concurring verdict, he said, “As a shield, the judicial independence is the basis with which judiciary has maintained its trust reposed by the citizens. In light of the same, the judiciary needs to be protected from attempts to breach its independence.”
“We may note that right to information should not be allowed to be used as a tool of surveillance to scuttle effective functioning of judiciary,” Justice Ramana said adding that the case concerns the balance which is required between two important fundamental rights — right to information and right to privacy.
Justice Ramana said the purport of section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act is to balance privacy with public interest and under the provision and said that the first step for the adjudicating authority is to ascertain whether the information is private and whether the information relating to the concerned party has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The legal battle
- Nov 11, 2007: RTI activist Subhash Chandra Aggarwal (in pic above) filed an RTI in the Supreme Court seeking information on judges’ assets.
- Nov 30: Information denied.
- Jan 12, 2008: Appeal filed against denial of information dismissed by SC’s registry.
- March 5, 2008: Aggarwal approached the Central Information Commission (CIC).
- Jan 6, 2009: CIC asked the apex court to disclose information on the ground that the CJI’s office comes within the ambit of the Act.
- Jan 17: Supreme Court Secretary General moved the Delhi High Court against the CIC order contending that declaration of assets by its judges to the CJI is personal information which cannot be revealed under the RTI Act and too much transparency can affect independence of the judiciary.
- Sept 2: A single judge of Delhi HC upheld the CIC order and said the CJI’s office comes within the ambit of RTI Act and that judges’ assets be made public under the law.
- Oct 5: SC challenges it before a three-judge HC bench.
- Jan 12, 2010: Delhi High Court bench comprising Chief Justice A P Shah (since retired) and Justices Vikramjit Sen and S Muralidhar declared dismissed the SC’s appeal and held that the CJI’s office is a public authority within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.
- Nov 26: Secretary-General of SC and Chief Public Information Officer file 3 appeals against the HC and CIC orders.
- Aug 17, 2016: SC refers the matter to a Constitution bench.
- April 4, 2019: SC reserves judgment.
- Nov 13: SC upholds 2010 Delhi High Court verdict, rules that office of the CJI is a public authority and falls within the ambit of RTI.