CJI under the RTI Act | 14 Nov 2019

Why in News

The Supreme Court has ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.

  • A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi gave the ruling.

Highlights of the Ruling

  • The Supreme Court is a “public authority” and the office of the CJI is part and parcel of the institution. Hence, if the Supreme Court is a public authority, so is the office of the CJI.
    • The judiciary cannot function in total insulation as judges enjoy a constitutional post and discharge public duty.
  • However, Right to Privacy is an important aspect and has to be balanced with transparency while deciding to give out information from the office of the Chief Justice of India.
    • RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance and that judicial independence has to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency.
  • On the issue related to the appointment of judges, the Supreme Court held that only the names of the judges recommended by the Collegium for appointment can be disclosed, not the reasons.

Outcome of the Ruling

  • The office of the CJI will now entertain RTI applications.
  • Under the RTI Act, 2005, every public authority has to provide information to persons requesting for the information under the Act.
    • Public Authority includes the body constituted by or under the Constitution. Article 124 of the Constitution deals with the establishment of the Supreme Court of India.
    • Information includes any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, etc.
  • The Ruling is an example for other bodies such as political parties, number of schools, trusts and public-private partnerships who resist categorisation as public authorities under the Act.
  • However, it has been seen that Offices such as those of the Prime Minister and the President which are public authorities under the RTI Act have often denied information quoting separate observations by the Supreme Court.
    • For instance, in 2011, the Supreme Court observed that:
      • Officials need to furnish only such information which already exists and is held by the public authority and not collate or create information, that is
      • The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties.

Note: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is out of the purview of the RTI Act. It was granted exemption in 2011.

Source: TH