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Chief Justice of India in RTI ambit, activists hail ruling

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 07:25:33 PM, IANS

'Don't emasculate the RTI Act dear Prime Minister': Opposition to the proposed amendments in the Right To Information (RTI) Act by the UPA Government in the centre ceases to cool down. Instead, the voice of dissent against any changes in the most publicized act formulated by the ruling alliance itself accumulating with every passing day..... Read Full

'RTI Act is a boon'

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court in a far-reaching ruling Tuesday held that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) comes within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) law, and held that judicial independence is not a judge’s privilege but a responsibility cast upon him.


RTI activists across the country and the legal fraternity hailed the high court’s ruling, saying the ruling would make the judiciary more accountable and transparent.


A bench comprising Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justices S. Muralidhar and Vikramjit Sen, upholding a single bench order, maintained that accountability of the judiciary cannot be seen in isolation.


“It must be viewed in the context of a general trend to render governors answerable to the people in ways that are transparent, accessible and effective. Democracy expects openness, and openness is concomitant of free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” they said.


The voluminous 88-page judgment is perceived as a personal setback to Supreme Court Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, who has resisted disclosure of information relating to judges under the RTI Act.


Sources in the Supreme Court registry said it was likely to challenge the division bench’s order.


According to the judgment, apex court judges would not only be required to reveal details of their assets but other decisions such as appointment of judges and complaints against judges also would come under public scrutiny.


“While it is obvious that the degree of accountability and answerability of a high court judge or a Supreme Court judge can be no different from that of a magistrate, it can well be argued that 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 the judgment.


As if on cue with their counterparts in the Supreme Court, the Delhi High Court judges said that they too would declare their assets and make available all information on the website.


“We too will declare our assets by next week,” said the three-member bench.


The Kerala and Madras High Court judges have already declared their assets. The Allahabad and Delhi High Courts had already passed the resolution to declare their assets.


Appearing for the Supreme Court registry, Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati said the judges should not be exposed to public scrutiny or inquiry as it would hamper their functioning and independence.


RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, on whose petition the Central Information Commission (CIC) had ruled that the office of the CJI is a public authority, was clearly overjoyed.


“I have no words to express the importance of this judgment. The only thing I can say is that it is a landmark and historic decision. This judgment will take forward the torch of transparency and accountability in the country,” Agrawal told IANS.


Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who fought the case for Agrawal, told IANS: “It’s a historic judgment and it should go a long way in emphasising that the judiciary is also accountable and all information relating to official functions discharged by the judiciary are accessible under the RTI.”


The political class was muted in its reaction. Both The Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not make a direct comment on the judgment but simply said there should be transparency in different wings of the government.


“It is a matter between the judiciary and the RTI. We don’t want to comment on it,” said Shakeel Ahmed of the Congress, adding that there should be transparency and probity in different wings of the administration.


BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said there was no need for a political reaction on the verdict. He added there should be accountability and transparency in “different pillars of democracy”.










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