In a major boost to transparency in judiciary, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday ruled for the second time in four months that the office of the Chief Justice of India was covered by the Right to Information Act.
Also, the court said, Right to Information was a Fundamental Right.
<b1>Any Indian can, therefore, demand to know how much CJI K G Balakrishnan earns every month, how much he holds in assets, why a certain judge was appointed and what was being done about complaints against judges.
In short, the highest judicial office in the land was open to public scrutiny. The Prime Minister and the President were already covered by the Act.
Balakrishnan had openly opposed it and the Supreme Court had appealed against a September 2009 order of the High Court bringing his office under RTI.
The Supreme Court has not given up yet. It is likely to challenge the high court’s order, this time before itself, said Supreme Court officials.
But on Tuesday, the office of the Chief Justice of India stood stripped of secrecy.
“The higher the judge is placed in the judicial hierarchy, the greater the standard of accountability and the stricter the scrutiny of accountability of such mechanism,” said a high court Bench comprising Chief Justice AP Shah, Justice S Muralidhar and Justice Vikramjit Sen.
“Democracy expects openness and openness is concomitant of free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” the court added.
The issue landed in high court following an RTI query by a Delhi resident, SC Aggarwal, on an article published in Hindustan Times on November 7, 2007, that the judiciary was opposing a law requiring judges to declare their assets.
While the Supreme Court dithered, its judges on August 26, 2009 passed a resolution saying they will declare their assets. But lawyers representing the top court argued that whether the CJI came under the RTI law was not yet decided.
Twenty-two judges of the Supreme Court passed that resolution.
The high court on Tuesday rejected Attorney General G E Vahanavati’s argument — that the office of the chief justice of India cannot be subjected to public scrutiny — that the judges’ resolution was “informal and non-binding.”