Central Public Information Officer, Supreme Court of India v Subhash Chandra Agarwal, 13th November 2019

This case is about CJI coming under the RTI Act. So, The Supreme Court of India was required by the Central Information Commission (CIC) to provide information about the Collegium’s decision-making process in November 2009. The CIC’s ruling concerns activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal’s request for information under the right to privacy. The CIC specifically mandated that the Supreme Court’s Central Public Information Office (CPIO) reveal any correspondence between the Collegium and the government about the nomination of Justices HL Dattu, AK Ganguly, and RM Lodha. When these three judges were appointed, Justices AP Shah, AK Patnaik, and VK Gupta had more seniority. The Right to Information Act of 2005 established the CIC as an independent legislative body tasked with enforcing the RTI Act. There are up to ten Information Commissioners and a Chief Information Commissioner that make up the CIC. According to Section 12(3), the President appoints the members of the CIC upon the suggestion of the Prime Minister (who is also the Chairperson of the CIC), the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and, a Union Cabinet Minister appointed by the Prime Minister.

RTI (RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT) 2005

This law is among the most significant in that it gives regular people the ability to question how the government operates. Residents and the media have utilized this extensively to expose corruption, the status of government projects, information on spending, etc. The main objectives of the Right to Information Act are to fight corruption, empower citizens, and ensure that our democracy works for everyone. Naturally, a knowledgeable citizen is better able to monitor governance tools and hold the government accountable to the people it serves. The Act is an important step towards educating the public about government operations.
The act covers all constitutional agencies, authorities, and organizations that are owned, controlled, and significantly funded by the government. The act also requires public authorities, whether they are state or union governments, to respond to citizens’ requests for information promptly. Additionally, if the authorities fail to respond to the citizen within the allotted time, there are penalties under the act.

Through RTI, what kinds of information requests can be done?

> Citizens have the right to request any information from government authorities that the government can provide to the parliament.

> RTI does not apply to certain types of information that could compromise India’s integrity or sovereignty.

> Information about cabinet talks, intellectual property rights (IPR), international relations, and internal security is not subject to the RTI Act.

The RTI Act’s objectives:

  1. Give people the ability to criticize the government.
  2. The act encourages accountability and transparency in how the government operates.
  3. Additionally, the act contributes to bettering the lives of the people by reducing corruption in the government.
  4. The act aims to create more knowledgeable citizens who will maintain the appropriate level of awareness regarding how the government operates.

SOME IMPORTANT PROVISION OF RTI:

  1. Section 2(h) All authorities and bodies under the union government, state governments, or local governments are considered public authorities. RTI also applies to civil societies that receive significant funding from the government, either directly or indirectly.
  2. Section 4 1 (b) The Government is required to preserve and effectively provide information.
  3. Section 6 To secure the information provide a simple procedure.
  4. Section 7 Specifies a deadline for PIOs to provide information.
  5. Under Section 8 only the bare minimum of information is shielded from disclosure 

The RTI Act’s exemptions from information disclosure are mentioned in Section 8 (1).

Under Section 8(2), information exempted by the Official Secrets Act of 1923 may be disclosed if doing so serves the greater good of the public.

  1. Section 19: Two-level appeals process.
  2. Section 20: Information that is inaccurate, incomplete, misleading, distorted, or fails to be provided on time, is subject to penalties.
  3. Section 23: Application and suit acceptance is prohibited for lower courts. Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution, however, do not alter the writ jurisdictions of the Indian supreme court and high court.

ISSUED RAISED BY THIS CASE

  1. Does the judiciary’s independence get compromised when information held by the collegium and office of the CJI is made public?
  1. Based on the protection of personal and fiduciary data, is the CJI exempt from public disclosure under Section 8(i)(e) and/or (j) of the RTI Act?
  1. Would revealing details about the Collegium’s decision-making process prohibit members from open and honest discussion? 

DECISION BY COURT

The question of whether the Supreme Court is subject to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, is being decided by a five-judge Constitution Bench. Three distinct opinions were produced by the bench, which included Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, N.V. Ramana, Deepak Gupta, and D.Y. Chandrachud.

Justice Khanna authored the majority opinion, which was signed by all justices. The Supreme Court’s constitution bench noted during the case’s hearing that many candidates for judges were now choosing not to run because they were afraid of damaging publicity. The impact of such publicity on people’s personal and professional lives has also been noted. Due to this, on the final day of the hearing, CJI Gogoi made the following oral observation: “Nobody wants an opaque system, but we cannot destroy the judiciary institution in the name of transparency.”

Justice Ramana’s concurring view and Justice Chandrachud’s concurring viewpoint.

OPINION BY JUDGES:

JUSTICE KHANNA’S OPINE, 

As Per the RTI Act, the Chief Justice is considered a “public authority. “Judicial independence and transparency do not conflict. The second CIC order’s appeal was denied. The Supreme Court’s CPIO was ordered to comply with the CIC order by a Delhi High Court ruling that was upheld. It remains unclear in general whether RTI requests require personal asset disclosure. The RTI’s Section 8(1)(e) exemption does not apply to the Chief Justice since there is no fiduciary relationship between the Chief Justice and other judges. Any disclosure of personal data must be preceded by notice to a third party. Returned to the Supreme Court’s CPIO for further review were other CIC orders. Third parties will be notified by CPIO, and their concerns will be taken into account if any.  

JUSTICE RAMANA’S OPINE

To provide a two-step method for determining if data is exempt from RTI requests by RTI Act Section 8(1)(j). Subject to the public interest, personal information is exempt under Section 8(1)(j). The requirements of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” and “freedom of expression” must be met by any disclosure.

JUSTICE CHANDRACHUD’S OPINE

Among his fellow judges, CJI does not have a fiduciary relationship. Furthermore, he asserts that the CPIO must follow the proportionality principle when deciding RTI requests about personal information.

JUDGEMENT BY SUPREME COURT: 

The Delhi High Court’s decision was upheld by the Supreme Court on November 13, 2019, concluding that the Office of the Chief Justice of India falls within the definition of a “public authority” and is therefore subject to the Right to Information Act. It is a landmark judgment, to comprehend the significance of the decision rendered in Central Public Information Officer; Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal, as it put an end to the ongoing discussion concerning the judiciary’s inclusion within the purview of RTI. The court declared that the necessity of openness did not compromise judicial independence and that, in the case of the judiciary, independence and accountability go hand in hand. It further held that the choice to disclose information to the public must be made case-by-case, weighing competing claims to the public interest in addition to privacy concerns. Regarding the issue of whether the Office of the Chief Justice of India and the Supreme Court were two distinct public authorities under the Right to Information Act, the court noted that the Supreme Court of India, being a public authority under Article 124 of the Constitution, inevitably encompasses the office of the CJI along with other judges. Furthermore, it was decided that since the offices collectively make up the Supreme Court, they are an integral part of the court. Concerning the fiduciary relationship between the judges and the CJI, the Supreme Court rejected the existence of such a connection. In light of section 8(e) of the RTI Act (which provides an exemption from disclosure of information held by a person in a fiduciary relationship), the appellants contended that the information on judges’ assets held by the CJI was in a fiduciary relationship. While dismissing such claims, the Court noted that such a relationship could only exist in certain circumstances. According to the ruling of the Supreme Court, the requirements for transparency and judicial independence do not conflict.

CONCLUSION
To preserve judicial independence, the Constitution bench ruling provides a thorough framework for handling RTI applications that request information about the operation of the judiciary. In the process, it has been definitively established that the CJI is a public authority under the RTI Act and that the Act’s provisions will apply to the CJI office. Additionally, it has been written that when considering whether to approve an application under the RTI Act asking for information about the operation of the judiciary, the public interest in judicial independence must be taken into consideration. 

CITATION
https://indiankanoon.org/doc/101637927/
Right to Information Act, 2005 https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/pdf_upload-366552.pdf
https://www.thyrighttoinformation.com/2019/12/07/judicial-independence-cji-the-rti-act/
https://www.scobserver.in/
https://www.scobserver.in/cases/central-public-information-officer-supreme-court-subash-chandra-agarwal-rti-and-judicial-independence-background/

AARTI RAI,

Asian law College (affiliated CCSU)