The Supreme Court on Friday lauded the role of the Right to Information (RTI) Act as an “integral part of any vibrant democracy.” But the apex court itself has refused to come under the ambit of the information transparency law for the past one decade.
The court has firmly resisted back-to-back decisions of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the Delhi High Court to open up to the RTI regime as far as the issues of Collegium and judicial appointments are concerned. In fact, the appeal filed by the Supreme Court against public disclosure under RTI has been pending in the Supreme Court since 2010.
In August 2016, a three-judge Bench finally referred the appeal to a five-judge Constitution Bench. The question involved was whether disclosure of information under RTI about judicial appointments, transfers of Supreme Court judges, etc., would amount to interference in judicial independence. However, nothing further has been heard about the appeal. It seems to be stuck in time. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has recently started uploading its Collegium resolutions.
The Supreme Court’s appeal in 2010 was against a 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 RTI Act.
The case concerned 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 Chief Justices of India.
The CIC had 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 (now retired) 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 had also 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.