The office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and is liable to provide information sought in public interest, a five-judge Constitution Bench led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi declared yesterday.
“Transparency and accountability should go hand in hand,” the main judgment authored by Justice Sanjeev Khanna and supported by Chief Justice Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta said.
Justice Khanna wrote that transparency would only further strengthen judicial independence. The Bench upheld the Delhi High Court’’s 2010 judgment, which concluded that the CJI is a public authority and does not hold information on the personal assets of fellow judges in a fiduciary capacity. Information held by a person in a fiduciary capacity is exempt from disclosure under the RTI.
Justice DY Chandrachud, in a separate opinion, said the CJI and the judges of the Supreme Court are constitutional offices and not a hierarchy. Hence, there is no such fiduciary relationship among them.
On the aspect of disclosure of assets of the sitting Supreme Court judges, the Bench said private assets though may amount to “personal information” under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, the Public Information Officer should take a considered decision in favour of disclosure if larger public interest is at stake.
In his separate but concurring opinion of the Bench, Justice NV Ramana called for striking a balance between right to information and right to privacy of the judges. He said both rights were not in conflict with each other, but were two faces of the same coin.
Justice Ramana wrote that transparency cannot be allowed to run to its absolute. “Right to information should not be allowed to be used as a tool of surveillance,” he observed.
Justice Chandrachud wrote that judicial independence did not mean judges should be insulated from the rule of law. “Judges are not above the law,” he observed.