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CJI is Public Authority under RTI says S.C

The CJI is a public authority under the Right to Information Act; The Supreme Court of India and The Chief Justice of India are not two separate public authorities: SC

CENTRAL PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, SUPREME COURT OF INDIA vs SUBHASH CHANDRA AGARWAL – CIVIL APPEAL NO. 10044 OF 2010 – 14.11.2019 [5 Judge Bench].

Supreme Court on 13th November 2019 in a Historic Landmark judgment held that The CJI is a public authority under the Right to Information Act and the CJI holds the information pertaining to asset declarations in his capacity as Chief Justice; that office is a “public authority” under the Act and is covered by its provisions.

The Supreme Court also discussed that It must be kept in the mind that the transparency cannot be allowed to run to its absolute, considering the fact that efficiency is equally important principle to be taken into fold. 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. While applying the second step the concerned authority needs to balance these considerations as well.

The supreme court while answering the first point ‘Whether the Supreme Court of India and the chief justice of India are two separate public authorities?’ held that

The Supreme Court of India, which is a ‘public authority’, would necessarily include the office of the Chief Justice of India and the judges in view of Article 124 of the Constitution. The office of the Chief Justice or for that matter the judges is not separate from the Supreme Court, and is part and parcel of the Supreme Court as a body, authority and institution. The Chief Justice and the Supreme Court are not two distinct and separate ‘public authorities’, albeit the latter is a ‘public authority’ and the Chief Justice and the judges together form and constitute the ‘public authority’, that is, the Supreme Court of India. The interpretation to Section 2(h) cannot be made in derogation of the Constitution. To hold to the contrary would imply that the Chief Justice of India and the Supreme Court of India are two distinct and separate public authorities, and each would have their CPIOs and in terms of subsection (3) to Section 6 of the RTI Act an application made to the CPIO of the Supreme Court or the Chief Justice would have to be transferred to the other when ‘information’ is held or the subject matter is more closely connected with the ‘functions’ of the other.

N.V Ramana, J concurring with the majority Noted that the following non-exhaustive considerations need to be considered while assessing the ‘Public Interest’ under Section 8 of the RTI Act

  1. Nature and content of the information

  2. Consequences of non-disclosure; dangers and benefits to public

  3. Type of confidential obligation.

  4. Beliefs of the confidant; reasonable suspicion

  5. Party to whom information is disclosed

  6. Manner in which information acquired

  7. Public and private interests

  8. Freedom of expression and proportionality.

In this judgment the Supreme court upheld the judgment of the Delhi High Court. Where the court observed:

The CPIO, Supreme Court of India to furnish information on the judges of the Supreme Court who had declared their assets. Such disclosure would not, in any way, impinge upon the personal information and right to privacy of the judges. The fiduciary relationship rule in terms of clause (e) to Section 8(1) of the RTI Act is inapplicable. It would not affect the right to confidentiality of the judges and their right to protect personal information and privacy, which would be the case where details and contents of personal assets in the declaration are called for and sought, in which event the public interest test as applicable vide Section 8(1)(j) and proviso to Section 11 (1) of the RTI Act would come into operation.

The Supreme Court also held that “the CPIO, Supreme Court of India to re-examine the matter after following the procedure under Section 11(1) of the RTI Act as the information relates to third parties. Before a final order is passed, the concerned third parties are required to be issued notice and heard as they are not a party before us. While deciding the question of disclosure on remit, the CPIO, Supreme Court of India would follow the observations made in the present judgment by keeping in view the objections raised, if any, by the third parties. We have refrained from making specific findings in the absence of third parties, who have rights under Section 11(1) and their views and opinions are unknown”.

Full judgement download here: CPIO, Supreme Court v. Subash candra agarwal

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