The SC’s judgment to bring the CJI under the law is welcome
By upholding transparency as the other side of justice, the SC has stayed true to constitutional principles.Updated: Nov 14, 2019 13:58 IST
In a bold and reformist judgment, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday ruled unanimously that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) comes under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The SC recognised the CJI as a “public authority”. It added that “judicial independence and accountability go hand in hand”, and held that “transparency strengthens independence”. The decision by the bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, marks the culmination of a complex legal journey. In 2010, the Delhi High Court had ruled that the office of the CJI was a public authority. The SC’s secretary-general and the central public information officer had subsequently appealed against the ruling.
The landmark judgment must be welcomed for several reasons. One, by opening its doors, the SC has signalled its confidence in the robust processes and procedures it follows, and this enhances its prestige. This was a case where the court itself was a stakeholder. It could have sought to remain opaque behind the veil of independence. But it chose otherwise, and wisely so. Second, the order comes at a time when the judiciary is playing an increasingly key role. Its decisions have a far-ranging impact on politics, society and the economy. And interest in judicial affairs has grown. The judgment will provide a greater understanding of the institution. Third, the order gives a much-required boost to the RTI Act itself, which has been facing pressures of dilution.
To be sure, Wednesday’s order has certain caveats. There will continue to be restrictions on information on issues regarding the collegium, correspondence between the chief justice and the executive, and the apex court’s internal correspondence and reports. The judgment also refers to the need to respect the right to privacy of judges, confidentiality, and ensure that RTI does not become a tool of surveillance. But this in no way diminishes the import of the judgment. The SC order has marked the contours of access for information seekers, and provides enough room to open up the institution further to scrutiny. By upholding transparency as the other side of justice, the SC has stayed true to constitutional principles.