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CJI under RTI ambit: 'No one is above law', say transparency activists on SC verdict

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: November 13, 2019  | 18:51 IST

(Eds: incorporates more details) New Delhi, Nov 13 (PTI) Transparency activists on Wednesday hailed the Supreme Court's decision to bring the office of the Chief Justice of India under the ambit of the RTI Act, saying the top court has reiterated the established position that "no one is above the law". They, however, termed as "extremely unfortunate" and "shocking" the top court's remark that RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance. "No one is above the law, particularly those performing public duties," RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) said. The verdict has opened so many doors and even lawmakers (members of Parliament, Legislative Assemblies) and others ought to be under the RTI Act, he added. Majeed Memon, Rajya Sabha member belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), said judges are no "holy cows". "Judges are no 'holy cows'. They are also human beings from amongst us. They are vulnerable to shortcomings. The verdict bringing judges within the ambit of RTI is a great step towards transparency and trust of people in justice system," he said in a tweet. Memon, senior advocate and member of Parliamentary Standing Committee for Personnel, Public Grievances, and Law & Justice, said judges too are now accountable. "The citizens are intelligent to acquire information from any particular court or judge. Any doubts or questions that people have can be addressed. I appreciate this great judgement," he said. In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court held that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a public authority and falls within the ambit of the Right to Information Act. A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi upheld the 2010 Delhi High Court verdict and dismissed three appeals filed by the Secretary General and the Central Public Information Officer of the apex court. The top court said that only the names of judges recommended by the Collegium for appointment can be disclosed, and not the reasons. "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. About the Supreme Court's remark that RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance, Nayak termed it "extremely unfortunate". "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's 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 also all materials that formed the basis of making the decision regarding the 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 functionaries, 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 need to be accountable for their work. I congratulate the chief justice and the court for having given such a decision," he said. The move to bring the office of the CJI under the transparency law was initiated by RTI activist S C Agrawal. "It is a landmark judgment. I welcome it wholeheartedly. In this judgement, the Supreme Court has dismissed appeal of its own CPIO and decided to bring itself under the RTI Act," he told PTI. 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. Senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan said the country is entitled to know what its public servants are doing. "So in that context, they have held that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a public authority covered under the (RTI) Act," Bhushan said. Former Kerala High Court chief justice S R Bannurmath said, "I agree with the judgement. There should be transparency. The public confidence in the judiciary will rise with this development." PTI AKV UJN IJT

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