Can we reveal details of judicial appointments under RTI, SC asks Constitution Bench

August 17, 2016 08:46 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 02:28 am IST - NEW DELHI

After six years of pendency, the Supreme Court on Wednesday referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench the question whether disclosure of information about judicial appointments, transfers of Supreme Court judges amounts to interference in judicial independence.

The reference by a three-judge Bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi came on an appeal filed by the Supreme Court itself in 2010 against a Central Information Commission (CIC) order, directing the Chief Justice of India's office to disclose details of correspondence between the Collegium and the government on the appointment of three Supreme Court judges under the Right to Information Act.

The case concerns an RTI request by activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal for the complete correspondence exchanged between the Supreme Court and the Centre on the appointment of Justice H.L. Dattu, Justice A.K. Ganguly and Justice R.M. Lodha superseding the seniority of Justice A.P. Shah, Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice V.K. Gupta. Justices Dattu and Lodha went on to become the Chief Justices of India.

The CIC ordered the disclosure in November 2009, despite the Supreme Court arguing that “it is in public interest to keep the appointment and transfer from needless intrusions by strangers and busybodies in the functioning of the judiciary.”

When the Supreme Court came in appeal to itself, a two-judge Bench of the apex court led by Justice B. Sudarshan Reddy, in November 2010, observed that the case raised “important questions of constitutional importance.”

Instead of staying the CIC order, Justice Reddy, who wrote the order, referred the case to a larger Bench of three judges. Justice Reddy's Bench framed several questions for the larger Bench to answer, including “whether the concept of independence of judiciary required and demanded the prohibition of furnishing of information sought?” and “whether the information sought for amounts to interference in the functioning of the judiciary?”

If the Constitution Bench eventually upholds the CIC order, the ordinary citizen would be empowered to seek details of judicial appointments and transfers from the Chief Justice of India under RTI, thus opening a judicial Pandora's Box.

This development has come even as Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur turns the heat on NDA government to come clean on the fate of 75 names forwarded by the Collegium to the Centre. On Independence Day, Chief Justice Thakur snubbed the government for not sparing a thought for the welfare of a judiciary struggling under enormous pendency.

Incidentally, while keeping this case pending, the Supreme Court had in 2015 urged six national political parties, including the BJP and the Congress, to disclose their financial sources and assets under RTI.

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