The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the Registrars-General of High Courts seeking their response on providing information, under the RTI Act, on appointments and transfers of judges.

A Bench consisting of Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar issued notice after hearing Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati, appearing for the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Supreme Court, and counsel Prashant Bhushan for rights activist Subhas Chandra Agrawal.

Justice Reddy told counsel: “We need to have views of the Registrars-General as they have been getting applications on the issue.” The Branch granted them four weeks’ time, and the matter will be listed thereafter.On December 4, 2009, another Bench headed by Justice Reddy stayed a Central Information Commission order asking the Supreme Court Registry to furnish to Mr. Agrawal information and documents relating to the correspondence between the then Union Law Minister and other constitutional authorities, together with file notings, on the appointment of Justices H.L. Dattu, A.K. Ganguly and R.M. Lodha to the Supreme Court.

The applicant alleged that these judges superseded three Chief Justices of High Courts — Justices A.P. Shah; A.K. Patnaik (now elevated to the Supreme Court) and V.K. Gupta — despite objections by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Bench also stayed another order passed by the Chief Information Commissioner directing the Supreme Court Registry to furnish information it had about a Union Minister, who allegedly approached Justice R. Reghupathi of the Madras High Court to influence his decision in an anticipatory bail plea.

In both cases the CPIO filed appeals directly to the Supreme Court without moving the Delhi High Court. On appointment of judges, the special leave petition raised the important question: Does the CJI hold information on appointment of judges in a fiduciary capacity attracting exemption under Section 8(1)(e) of the Act?

The appellant said the consultation process and the primacy of the opinion of the CJI were the core of judicial independence. This “demands that the consultation process be conducted in an atmosphere of sober analysis unaffected by competing pressures.”

On information pertaining to the Union Minister, the SLP said: “The applicant under the RTI Act has a right under Section 2(j) only in respect of information which is held by or under the control of a public authority with the sanction of any law or a provision having the force of law. In the instant case, the information sought for is not at all held [by the CJI] pursuant to the mandate of any law. In these circumstances, there was no right to information under Section 2(j) whatsoever.”

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