"I welcome the decision of the constitution bench to reiterate the established position in law that the CJI is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act," said Venkatesh Nayak, head of access to information programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an NGO.
Transparency activists on Wednesday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision on bringing the office of the Chief Justice of India under the ambit of the RTI Act, saying the apex court has reiterated the established position in law in the matter. “I welcome the decision of the constitution bench to reiterate the established position in law that the CJI is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act,” said Venkatesh Nayak, head of access to information programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an NGO. In a landmark verdict, a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court verdict that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes within the ambit of the RTI law and dismissed the three appeals filed by Secretary General of the Supreme Court and the Central Public Information Officer of the apex court.
The top court said that only names of judges recommended by the Collegium for appointment can be disclosed, not the reasons. Cautioning that RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance, it held that judicial independence has to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency. About the Supreme Court’s remark that RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance, Nayak termed it as “extremely unfortunate” observation. “It is extremely unfortunate that an observation has been made that RTI can be a tool for surveillance on the judiciary. Surveillance has unfortunately been equated with transparency that is required under a law duly passed by Parliament,” he told PTI.
Nayak said surveillance is what the government often does under executive instructions and that is not the purpose of the RTI Act. “People whose cases relating to their life, liberty, property and rights are decided by the high courts and the Supreme Court. People have the right to know not only the criteria but all materials that formed the basis of making the decision regarding appointments of judges in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act,” he said.
Nayak said where exemptions are available under the RTI Act, they will be legitimately invoked by public authorities and all other information should be in the public domain. He said the appointment of judges, who are public functionary, is a public act. “People have the right to know everything that is done in a public way by a government, in a democratic country, which must be accountable and responsible,”Nayak said.
Former information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi also hailed the top court’s decision. “It is a very good decision of the SC. I had expected the same decision to come as logically there is nothing else. It is unfortunate that it has taken 10 years. The CIC has upheld this. The Delhi HC had also upheld this. Now, the SC has upheld this. All public servants that are paid by the government is a public service, no matter what the position is? You need to be accountable for your work. I congratulate the Chief Justice and the court for having given such a decision,” he said.
RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal hailed the top court’s verdict. “I welcome the Supreme Court’s verdict. It is a victory of the RTI Act,” he said. Another activist Ajay Dubey said the apex court’s decision was “historic”. “It is a historic decision and I welcome it. All decisions made by a public authority must be in public domain and under the RTI Act,” he said. Dubey, however, expressed shock over the top court’s remark that RTI Act cannot be used as a tool of surveillance.