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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

CJI comes under RTI ambit, says Delhi HC

Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date: Sep 3, 2009; Section: Front Page; Page: 1
Smriti Singh | TNN

New Delhi: Ruling in favour of transparency and accountability in higher judiciary, the Delhi high court on Wednesday ruled that the Chief Justice of India was a ‘‘public authority’’ under the Right to Information Act and had to make public the information on assets declared to him by judges.

The ruling by Justice Ravindra Bhat, which came on the Supreme Court’s appeal against an almost identical order from the Central Information Commissioner, ran counter to the consistent stand of Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan that the CJI could not be termed as a public authority under RTI Act.

Though the SC is sure to appeal against the ruling, it is being seen as a moral victory for all those who want more accountability in the judiciary.

Open Assets

Nov 11, ’07: RTI activist Subhash C Aggarwal files a plea in SC seeking info on declaration of judges’ assets

Nov 30, ’07: Information denied in reply

Jan 6, ’09: CIC asks SC to disclose information

Jan 17, ’09: SC moves Delhi HC against CIC order

Sept 2, ’09: High Court upholds CIC’s order Info given by judges to CJI under RTI: HC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court will decide in the next couple of weeks whether to move a division bench of the high court or the apex court against Delhi HC’s verdict in the RTI case.

Upholding the CIC’s order directing the SC to disclose whether or not judges were declaring their assets to the CJI as per a 1997 inhouse SC resolution, Justice S Ravindra Bhatt said the information pertaining to declaration given to the CJI and the contents of such declaration were subject to the provisions of the RTI Act.

‘‘Declaration of assets by SC judges is information under Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act,’’ the high court said. Though the 72-page judgment defined what kind of information was in larger interest and could be made public from the CJI’s office, Justice Bhatt was firm in rejecting the Supreme Court’s stand that the CJI held the asset declarations in a fiduciary (held in trust) capacity and disclosing it would amount to breach of trust.

Stating that the argument was without substance, the high court said the Chief Justice of India does not hold such declarations in a fiduciary capacity or relationship.

Describing transparency as a ‘‘powerful beacon’’, Justice Bhat favoured evolving some uniform standards and modalities for declaration of assets by judges to bring in clarity.

‘‘The CJI, if he deems it appropriate, may in consultation with Supreme Court judges, evolve uniform standards, devising the nature of information, relevant formats, and if required, the periodicity of the declarations to be made,’’ Justice Bhatt said.

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