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Right To Information Act And Why The Office Of CJI Comes Under The Purview Of It

Nelson Mandela once said Democracy and Human Rights are inseparable. The quote signifies the importance of Human Rights and the parallel approach of complying with those rights in a democratic country. We can say that information is a basic fundamental right and the essence of a democratic nation. In India, we follow the theory of separation of powers in which the government runs by the executive, legislature, and judiciary.

However, having a comprehensive form of government does not guarantee the transparency of the officials. Right to information is a necessity to keep a check on governmental activities. It also gives power to a common man to raise questions about the actions that are unjustified. Right to information act not only makes the system transparent but also defines the true meaning of Democracy.

On 15th June 2005, our former President APJ Abdul Kalam gave his approval to the act of 2005. It took around 120 days to implement all the provisions. Formally, on 12th October 2005, the act Right to Information came into force. However, the established law that pleases our citizens today did not come through a simple journey. Letís get back to the journey of how the idea of these rights came into existence.

Background
After 1947, India was learning to grow as an independent nation. A new system of government and powerful authorities was alien to the people of India. After the year 1970, a constant clash between the Supreme Court and the parliament spread awareness among the citizens. The landmark cases like Golaknath v. State Of Punjab in which the supreme court stated the Fundamental Rights to be Transcendental and Keshavnanda Bharti v. the State Of India in which the bench came up with the Doctrine of Basic Structure, gave hopes to the citizens. The people of India started being more vocal about their rights.

Somehow the idea among the citizens to have a transparent system became strong. In 1977, citizen's hope to have a transparent government started getting significance when Moraji Desai made a commitment to the public in his speech to bring citizenís rights. Morarji Desai was the former prime minister of India who driven the Janta party during 1977-1979. In his speech, he stated:
The government would not misuse the intelligence service and governmental authorities for personal advantages.

By complying with it, he constituted a committee to modify the Official secrets acts Act, 1923. The working group never recommended any laws or modifications for the betterment of the state. Due to this ignorance, the public lost hopes for transparency and openness in the government sector. In 1986, another case which gained popularity for the citizenís right was Mr Kulwal v. Jaipur Municipal corporation.

In this case, the issue was whether Right to information is a fundamental right or not. Article 19 came into light which enforces freedom of speech and expression. The argument implied that the citizen's right to information comes within the explanation of article 19. Further, the court explained that India is a democratic country and when the public is uninformed, the citizens cannot enjoy the right of freedom of speech and expression. People became furious about the reluctance of the Right to information by the former government.

Thus, the government decided to revise their commitment and VP Singh in December 1989 said:
We will have to increase access to information. If the government functions in full public view, wrongdoings will be minimized. To this end, the official secrets act will be amended and we will make the functioning more transparent.

But in 1990 his government lost the confidence vote in Lok Sabha and he was removed from his office. The government made strong commitments but the system failed to provide transparency and open government to the public of India. In 1994, MKSS- Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan started to grow in Rajasthan. They were eager to know about the information concerning the development work in the rural areas of Rajasthan. MKSS made sure that labours get daily minimum wages for development works through a Jan sunwai. Meanwhile, other states started protesting and asking questions related to the developments in their areas.

In 1995, a civil society formed a draft in LBSNAA Masoorie and called it National campaign for peopleís right to information (NCPRI). Such awareness among the groups and their movements for the rights was a wakeup call for the government. The fruitful efforts made Tamil Nadu the first state to pass a law on the Right to information.

The movement brought a major change and within the year 2004, the UPA government made NAC-national counselling committee to screen the government plans and exhort the government on law and approaches. The council moreover prescribed changes to the opportunity to act in 2002. The RTI charged with a few alterations was tabled on the parliament. In the end, the Right to information act 2005 was passed by the legislation of India.

Revising The Abnormalities For A Better System

Keeping in mind the struggle behind these rights which the citizens of India appreciate nowadays, a few of the activists take charge of revising the abnormalities in law for a better and open system. As the idea of Right to information suggests, the motive to bring transparency to the system. On that account, right to information activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal filed a petition to:
  1. Furnish a copy of the 1997 resolution of the supreme court and
  2. Information on any such declaration of assets ever filed by honíble judges of the supreme court and further information if high court judges are submitting declaration about their assets to Chief justice of states regarding the compliance of the 1997 resolution.
The Central Public Information Officer informed the applicant that the information regarding the copy of the 1997 resolution of the supreme court has been made available. However, the second information was not held under the control of the registry of the supreme court of India, said CPIO. Thus, the information cannot be furnished. It can be said that a piece of partial information was made available to the applicant on which appeal before nominated appellate authority was filed by the applicant.

The reasoning formulated for the first appeal was to question the decision established by CPIO. If CPIO did not hold the information asked by the applicant, then they could have considered transferring it to the concerned authority. The appellate authority passed an order of remit directing the CPIO, Supreme Court to follow the procedure of section 6(3) of the RTI Act that says transfer the application to the concerned authority and to inform Subhash Chandra about the authority holding such information.

However, the decision declared by the appellate authority was not followed by CPIO, they rejected it again saying it was against the spirit of section 6(3). The reasoning behind the rejection was that the applicant is seeking information from different high courts, he is aware of the fact that several applications would cost him more than filing only one application. Hence, it can be said that the applicant is trying to escape from the burden and charges of filing several applications to different authorities.

Subhash Chandra preferred a direct appeal before the Central information commission. CIC held that given what has been observed above, CPIO, the Supreme Court is directed to provide the information asked by the appellant in his RTI application as to whether such declaration of assets, etc. have been filed by the Honíble Judges of the Supreme Court or not, within ten working days from the date of receipt of this decision notice.

The aggrieved CPIO, the supreme court of India filed a writ petition before Delhi High Court in 2009 and the questions which were raised were in light of the RTI act and the power that democracy holds within. The first thing which was asked was whether the Chief justice of India is a public authority? To which the decision made by Delhi high court was Chief justice of India is certainly a public authority under the right to information act.

Another question was whether CPIO, the supreme court of India is different from the office of CJI; If so whether the right to information act covers the office of Chief justice of India. It was said that CJI holds the information on asset declarations in his capacity as Chief Justice; that CJI office is a public authority under the Act and is covered by its provisions as well. As the statements were made clear about the existence of public authority.

The next argument that follows is whether asset declaration by supreme court judges according to the 1997 Resolution is information under the Right to Information Act, 2005? The court held, yes, the definition itself says that information which is already in existence and accessible to the public authority under the law, hence the declaration of assets is considered as information within the meaning of the 2005 act. The relation between the authorities works in mysterious ways, the information can be open to all for the interest of the public in large and can be as confined as it can be for the same.

The very next argument was:
If such declarations are information, does the CJI hold them in a fiduciary capacity or a personal capacity? To which the reasoning given by the court was if the information was in a fiduciary capacity then the declaration of such information would have been a breach. As quoted earlier, any recorded information which does not harm the national security or the public interest of citizens cannot be held from the public in a fiduciary capacity.

In the case of the Central Board of Secondary Education & Another v. Aditya Bandyopadhyay & Others and Reserve Bank of India v. Jayantilal N. Mistry, it was said that the obligation of a public servant is not to act for the advantage of other public servants. Thus, it also legitimizes that the CJI and other specialists are meant to release their constitutional duties and not act as guardians of anybody but the citizens of India.

On the other hand, the information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.

The definition provided makes it clear that the declaration of assets here is not personal information. Therefore, information regarding the declaration of assets in compliance with the 1997 resolution is not a violation under this section. On further appeal by CPIO, the decision by a single bench judge was referred to the full bench in 2012, but the appeal was dismissed as the full bench judges were satisfied with the reasoning and decision made by the single bench judge of High court. The decision was followed by few substantial questions in which one of them was regarding the Independence of the Indian judiciary.

Whether the independence of the judiciary requires and demands the prohibition of furnishing of the information sought? Whether the information sought would interfere in the working of the judiciary? To which it was stated that even the law states certain exceptions from providing the information but the information which was asked in the application was not fiduciary or in the personal capacity of judges. Subhash Chandra relying on the judgment of State of U.P. v Raj Narain & others said that disclosure of the information sought does not undermine the independence of the judiciary. Disclosure of the asked information is in large public interest thus it outweighs the privilege of exemption under section 8(1)(f).

Conclusion
The High court of Delhi gave a clear and comprehensive judgment with proper reasoning. The questions that came into the light later in Supreme court were related to the constitution and about the rights a citizen holds under the Right to Information act 2005.

The last argument in the Supreme Court of India was about:
  1. Whether the respondent had any right to information regarding the declaration by the judges of the supreme court according to the 1997 resolution?
  2. Whether the information about the declaration of assets by the judges of the supreme court is exempt from disclosure under the provision of 8(1)(j) and section 8(1)(e) of RTI act?
Both the questions were already explained by the Delhi High Court with proper reasoning, the Supreme Court answered in favour of the applicant Subhash Chandra Agarwal and it was established that the public authorities work for the citizen of India. Indian legal system has always been analytical around the judgments.

Additionally, in the case of CPIO, the Supreme court of India v Subhash Chandra Agarwal, it has been made significant that the choice must be impartial taking after an appropriate rationale and truths. The case was against the supreme court of India itself. However, the hon'ble court relying on the facts and reasoning supported justice by ruling the milestone.

Bibliography:
  • Golaknath v. State of Punjab, 1976 AIR 1643, 1967 SCR(2) 762
  • Keshavnanda Bharti v. State of India (1973) 4 SCC 225: AIR 1973 SC 1461
  • Mr Kulwal v. Jaipur Municipal Corporation AIR 1988 Raj 2, 1987 (1) WLN 134
  • Stuti Aastha, Evolution and development of the Right to Information act in India (2018)
  • Office Of Chief Justice Of India Is a Public Authority Under the Right To Information Act, 2005
  • State of U.P. v Raj Narain & others 1975 AIR 865, 1975 SCR (3) 333
  • Scope of Section 8 (1)(j) of The RTI Act, 2005- 'Privacy' as abuse for claiming exemption

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