Supreme Court's CPIO asked to give information to RTI activist

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has held that all information in possession of the office of the Chief Justice of India is not completely exempt from disclosure under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

“While we concede that due to the stay granted by the Supreme Court [in the assets case], all information relating to the in-house procedure of the Supreme Court and vigilance matters relating to the judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Courts should not be disclosed, we cannot agree that every information held in the office of the CJI should not be disclosed till the Constitution Bench officially disposes of the issues referred to it by the Division Bench,” Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra said in his order.

He said acceptance of the argument that information could not be provided because of the stay would virtually mean complete exclusion of the office of the CJI from the scope of the RTI Act, which was not the case. “Had the intention of the Legislature been so, there would have been an express provision in the law to exclude the office of the CJI from the operation of the RTI Act or the information held in the office of the CJI would have been kept out of the definition of information as given in Section 2 (f) [relating to exemptions].”

Appellant RTI activist Subash Chandra Aggarwal had sought a variety of information in 11 cases. Some of these questions were about the appointment of some individuals as judges and some others related to questions arising out of the conduct of judges, based upon some newspaper reports. No information had been provided by the Supreme Court's Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), and this order was confirmed by the appellate authority. The present appeal was filed against this order.

“During the hearing, the appellant had specifically prayed for the disclosure of the information relating to the correspondence between the Union Law Minister and the Chief Justice of India on the proposed procedure for appointment of judges,” Mr. Mishra said. “In dealing with this specific request, a distinction needs to be made between the process of appointment of an individual as a judge and the procedure for making such appointments.”

Disagreeing with the CPIO's stand that such information could not be provided, Mr. Mishra said: “Both these classes of information cannot be equated. The procedure of appointment of judges is freely available in the public domain. Even if the appointment of an individual is made following such a procedure, the details of that appointment cannot be disclosed now, since there is an express stay on the disclosure… of such information. There is already a laid-down procedure. If the Union Law Minister has proposed, in a certain communication to the CJI, about a modification of the existing procedure and if the CJI has responded to him with his view, this correspondence cannot be equated to the appointment of a particular individual as a judge under the existing procedure.”

He said: “It cannot be anybody's case that the change in the procedure of judges should happen completely outside the notice or the knowledge of the citizens of India, and that the citizens of India should not be given an opportunity to articulate their views. The objective of the RTI Act is precisely to help create an informed citizenry so that it can hold the state and its instrumentalities to account.”

Mr. Mishra directed the CPIO to look for this information once again and, if found, give it to the appellant in 10 days.

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