By admin April 4, 2019 11:15

The Big Picture: RTI & Collegium Does the Right to Information (RTI) covers proceedings of the Collegium?

Collegium is a body of five senior most judges, including the Chief Justice of India who decides on the elevation of judges in the High Court and the Supreme Court For long there has been a debate on whether collegium can be covered under the RTI. The matter began in 2009 when activist Subhash Chandra Aggrawal had filed an RTI seeking information on the correspondence between the Supreme Court collegium and the Centre on the appointment of judges The Supreme Court’s Central Public Information Officer had refused to share the information after which it came to the Central Information Commission (CIC), who ruled in Aggrawal’s favour. As the matter went to the High Court, Aggarwal’s contention was upheld again. The matter since then has been debated in the Supreme Court. In the latest round of hearing before the constitutional bench Attorney General K.K. Venugopal representing the Supreme Court’s CPIO said that opening up the “highly-sensitive” correspondence of the Supreme Court’s collegium and its workings to the Right to Information (RTI) regime would make judges and the government “shy” and “destroy” judicial independence The AG also added that “Disclosure of highly sensitive communication under RTI will risk the very existence of the judicial way of functioning. So, the information should be kept confidential”.

What was the petition?

There are three matters before the Supreme Court bench

  1. Copy of the resolution passed by all the Supreme Court judges unanimously where it was said that all the judges of Supreme Court and High Court will declare their wealth to the respective Chief Justices.

The copy was provided to the petitioner. Initially, the Supreme Court stayed the order of a High Court where the judges were asked to declare their assets. But when the High Court judges started declaring their assets suo moto, then the Supreme Court judges had to fall in line.

  1. Whether the judges were really disclosing their wealth to Chief Justices to which the court said it was not covered under the RTI Act.

But the CIC and the Supreme Court decided in the petitioner’s favour and the information was provided to him.

  1. Correspondence with Chief Justice of India

The petitioner had asked information to be provided on a case where a Madras High Court judge approached the Chief Justice of Madras HC saying he was tried to be influenced by a legislator in Madras. This matter is pending was passed to the Supreme Court which is still pending after the matter was declared to be decided by a Constitutional bench.

What is the anomaly in the case?

  • The case is being argued by the AG representing the Central Public Information Officer who is, in turn, arguing for the Supreme Court itself.
  • So, the Supreme Court is acting as a court of necessity where it is being represented before itself.
  • Also after the National Judicial Appointments Commission was scrapped by the SC and there were problems cited in the transparency of the collegium proceedings, judges have been putting the proceedings of the collegium on the official website. It is only the information prior to that which is not being published or refused.

What part of the judicial proceedings can be covered under the RTI?

  • There is a difference between administrative and judicial proceedings.
  • Judicial proceedings are part of public record.
  • Administrative proceedings are within the administrative domain.

What is the RTI Act?

  • The RTI Act was formulated to bring transparency in every institution.
  • RTI Act is applicable to all public authorities which are defined in Section 2 h of the RTI Act.
  • There are two public authorities
  1. Any institution created by or under the Constitution.
  2. Any institution created by or under a statute.
  3. Any institution created by or under an executive order
  4. Any authority which is directly or indirectly funded by the State substantially. So, a private body may come under the RTI Act if it is directly or indirectly funded by the State.
  • Section 8(1) of the RTI exempts certain information from under the purview of the RTI Act.
  • There is a list of organisations which are exempt under Section 24 read with Section 2 of the RTI Act.
  • Section 10 of the RTI Act also provides for severability section where some portion of the record can be severed or cut from being disclosed.
  • Matters to be given under RTI should meet the criterion of being in the larger public interest.
  • These are an invasion of privacy of an individual, sovereignty and integrity of India, national security etc.


  • It is a concern whether a judge should continue to hold the post if the AG feels that certain matters made public about the judge would have a damaging effect.
  • When an advocate is refused to be elevated to the High Court, there might be some negative remarks recorded by the dissenting judge of the collegium against the advocate being considered for elevation. If that part of the record is made public, it will have an untenable effect.
  • The same principle applies when a High Court judge is refused to be elevated as a Supreme Court judge.
  • Such adverse remarks against a sitting judge or an advocate will hinder the reputation of the person in consideration as a judge or as a lawyer.

Way forward

  • There should be a framework which makes the Supreme Court which is the apex judicial system more transparent and accountable.
  • Communication between the government and the SC collegium is communication between two public bodies and should not be exempt from the RTI Act.
  • Administrative proceedings of the Supreme Court lie within the territorial jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court and should be heard in the Delhi HC instead of the Supreme Court.
  • If the recent collegium proceedings are being published, then the SC should not have a problem in publishing the past proceedings of the collegium as well.
  • With respect to the judicial independence raised by the Attorney General, it should be with respect to the legislature and the executive and not with respect to the public.
  • Accountability and transparency is the hallmark of a parliamentary democracy which will enhance the credibility of the institution. If some portion has a damaging effect for the sitting judge or an advocated, that portion should be severed in accordance with Section 10 of the RTI Act and rest of the record should be made public.

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By admin April 4, 2019 11:15