Chief justice, governors can't be exempt from RTI, suggests SC

The Supreme Court on Thursday seemed for the first time to seek an end to the judiciary's reluctance to come under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, saying it favoured bringing the office of the Chief Justice of India within the domain of the transparency law.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy said offices of all constitutional functionaries should be made amenable to the RTI law to bring transparency and accountability in their functioning. The court specifically mentioned that the offices of governors and the Chief Justice of India should be brought under the ambit of RTI Act.

The court was hearing a batch of petitions challenging a Bombay High Court order declaring the governor's office a public authority and directing the Goa Raj Bhavan to make public the governor's report to the President on the political situation in the state in July-August 2007.

The information was sought under RTI by current Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who was then the leader of the opposition in the Goa assembly.

Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Centre, contended that another case pertaining to the CJI's office was pending before the Constitution bench and the matter should be tagged along with those cases. He said constitutional authorities discharge sovereign functions and they should be exempted from the RTI Act.

The bench, however, did not agree with his submission and said, "What is there to hide? There is nothing to hide for the Chief Justice of India. There is no secretive business of the chief justice and the office of CJI should be brought within RTI's ambit. Why governor and CJI should not be brought under RTI?"

This is the first time the apex court has argued in favour of RTI applying to the judiciary.

The issue of whether the Supreme Court should come within the ambit of the RTI Act, making it obligatory for the CJI to divulge information on the appointment of judges and his correspondences with the government, is under consideration by a constitution bench.

Earlier, the apex court has time and again refused to reveal information under the Act despite the Central Information Commission (CIC) and some high courts declaring the CJI's office as public authority under the RTI Act. The administrative side of the apex court has challenged all such orders in the SC and cases are still pending.

The Delhi high court had in 2009 declared the CJI as a public authority under the Act and asked the top court to make assets of its judges public. The verdict was challenged by the SC through its Central Public Information Officers before the apex court, which matter is still pending.