SC appeals to itself on RTI verdict

March 9, 2010: The Times of India

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Secretary General on Monday moved the apex court seeking the setting aside of a Delhi High Court verdict bringing the Chief Justice of India’s office under the ambit of RTI Act and said the judgment had the potential to destroy the constitutionally guarded independence of the judiciary. 

Filing the special leave petition just four days before the expiry of the March 12 deadline to appeal against the unanimous verdict of a three-judge Bench authored by former chief justice A P Shah, the secretary general of the apex court said the declaration of assets by judges to the CJI was voluntary and the information so held was purely in a fiduciary capacity in the absence of any law to that effect.

The appeal, drafted by advocate Devdatt Kamat and settled by Attorney General G E Vahanvati, said though the initial RTI appeal by S C Agarwal before the single-judge Bench of the HC pertained only to declaration of assets by judges, the three-judge Bench unnecessarily forayed into virgin territory and made observations touching on sensitive areas of judicial administration. 

Since, judges have already posted their assets and liabilities on the official website of SC, the appeal did not seek stay of the HC judgment, but sought its setting aside on the ground that the observations in the verdict seriously compromised judicial independence. “The effect of the judgment of the HC would seriously impair the position of the judges and the doctrine of independence of judiciary. The framers of the Constitution had insulated the higher judiciary from any interference, pressure or scrutiny. Independence of judiciary also includes in its ambit the independence from any ‘pressures’ or ‘prejudices’.¶

The appeal complained: “The single judge made wide-ranging observations on the position of the CJI. This was specificaly put in issue before the Full Bench and it was contended that the observations were not only uncalled for but also wrong. These issues have not been dealt at all.¶ 

If the RTI ambit was so expanded to mean that the consultation process for appointment of judges was also to be made public, then it would seriously impair a confidential constitutional process, it said. “The basic constitutional principle is that in a process of consultation, the consultor and the consultee must have the fullest assurance that the views expressed would be kept in confidence. Confidentiality is a requirement of the basis of consultation,¶ the secretary general said. 

Right to information had to be interpreted within the meaning and scope of the 2005 legislation and was not to be construed as an “unbridled and unchecked right¶ as the HC had made it out to be, the appeal said.

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