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Monday, January 19, 2009

SC moves HC against CIC order on judges’ assets

Dhananjay Mahapatra | TNN
January 17, 2009 (Times of India)
New Delhi: Worried about a recent Central Information Commission order on making assets of judges public, the Supreme Court registrar on Friday challenged it before the Delhi high court saying that this information, not being in public domain, could not be given to RTI applicants.
The high court is the appellate authority for challenging CIC’s decisions — a fact that led to this unusual situation of the apex court moving a lower court over a dispute.
The apex court said information relating to declaration of assets by Supreme Court judges to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) was not a mandatory exercise under law, but driven by an informal resolution of May 7, 1997 — implying that information on judges’ assets did not come under RTI’s purview.
The petitioner added that the CIC had committed an error by equating the Supreme Court and the CJI as one and the same authority whereas the CJI’s position was quite distinct from that of the Supreme Court in terms of the RTI Act.
‘‘CJI is not a public authority, as defined under the RTI Act, and therefore, is not required to designate a central public information officer (central PIO) for it, or to supply information held or maintained by it,’’ the appeal stated.
The CIC had on January 6 only directed the central PIO of the SC to furnish information as to whether any declaration of assets had been filed by SC judges or not.
But even this apparently innocuous order has led the Supreme Court to challenge the CIC order before the HC, saying that a public authority was bound to give information if these were available in public domain.
The SC registrar added that details of judges’ assets was not information which was held by or under control of a public authority, since it was voluntarily furnished to the CJI, who himself could not be included in the definition of ‘‘public authority’’. ‘‘There is nothing under the Constitution of India or under any other law which requires judges of the Supreme Court to declare their assets to the Chief Justice of India,’’ said the petition, which was drafted by advocate Devdatt Kamath and settled by Solicitor General G E Vahanvati.
Quoting section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act which imposed a ban on furnishing of personal information, the SC Registrar said that any query relating to assets of judges voluntarily declared before the CJI squarely fell within the meaning of Section 8(1)(j).
Jan 6: Central Information Commission directs SC’s information officer to disclose whether or not SC judges were filing declarations on assets
Apex court goes to HC, a lower court. Says judges not mandated by law to disclose assets. Hence, this information cannot be shared under RTI
SC also says office of Chief Justice of India does not fall under RTI Act

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