Case Analysis: Central Public Information Officer, Supreme Court of India vs. Subhash Chandra Agarwal

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INTRODUCTION

For better transparency in the working of all the Government institutions it is necessary to maintain balance between right to information and principle of confidentiality and every citizen have right to exercise his right of information. This landmark case dealt with the issues relating to “transparency, accountability and judicial independence” and strikes an equilibrium between right to privacy and disclosure of information in the larger public interest. Further the case deals with the question of appointment of judges, correspondence with judges and their asset declaration.

CASE  SUMMARY

CASE TITLE:   CENTRAL PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, SUPREME COURT OF INDIA V. SUBHASH          CHANDRA AGARWAL
COURT:   Supreme Court of India
DATE OF DECISION:  13 November, 2019
CASE NO.:   Civil Appeal no. 10044/2010
JUDGES:   D. Y. Chandrachud, Ranjan Gogoi, Sanjiv Khanna, Deepak Gupta, NV Ramana
PARTIES:   PETITIONER– Central Public Service Officer, Supreme Court of India
:   RESPONDENT – Subhash Chandra Agarwal, High Court of Tripura
LAWYERS:   PETITIONER– B Krishna Prasad
:   RESPONDENT– Prashant Bhushan, Sunil Fernandes

FACTS OF THE CASE

In this case, three appeals were filed which arises from three different Applications filed by respondent, Subhash Chandra Agarwal before Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), Supreme Court.

The three Applications were-

1) In the first application, Subhash Chandra filed Right to information Application to CPIO to furnish information about the complete correspondence of the Chief Justice of India as it was found that the Union Minister had influenced the judicial decision of Madras High Court judge, Justice R. Reghupathi.

2) In the second RTI Application was filed regarding a request to furnish information about correspondence between the Constitutional authorities relating to appointment of three Supreme Court Judges- Justice A.K. Ganguly, Justice H.L. Dutta, Justice R.M. Lodha which superseded other senior Judges.

3) In the third Application was filed for furnishing information relating to the declaration of assets of judges made by them to Chief Justice of India and Chief Justice of States.

On filing of these Application, the CPIO, Supreme Court denied fir furnishing requested information by stating that the information sought is available with the registry of Supreme Court of India.

Upon denial of providing information, Subhash Chandra Agarwal filed appeal to Central Information Commission (CIC), and on 6 January, 2009 the Central Information Commission ordered Supreme Court to disclose the requested information and to follow the procedure mentioned under, section 6(3) of Right to Information Act,2005.
Upon aggrieved by the order of CIC, Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), filed writ petition before High Court but it ruled in favour of respondent.

Further CPIO filed appeals before Supreme Court of India. The first two appeals were filed in the Supreme Court against the CIC order which directs access to information. The third appeal was filed against the order passed by the full bench of Delhi High Court.

ISSUES

1) Whether the disclosure of information to the public relating to the office of CJI and collegium system amounts to the interference of in the judicial independence?

2) Whether section 8(1)(j) exempt the information sought for the public disclosure?

3) Whether the disclosure of information sought for relating to judges would curtail or prevent the constitutional authorities from expressing their free and frank expression?

ARGUMENTS OF PARTIES-

Arguments by Appellant:

The appellant contended that the disclosure of information would hamper the independence of judiciary and judges are not supposed to be subjected to any “litigative public debate”.

As per the Right to Information Act, a person is not allowed to be provided with all the requested details as there exist several restrictions and conditions mentioned in the Act. Under section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act, the information which is sought in this case is exempted and cannot be furnished.

Disclosure of information relating to appointment of judges would come into the ambit of the exempted category and if it is disclosed it would amount to hampering of their privacy and against the larger public interest.

The disclosure of information about the assets of the judges it their voluntary choice and if it is declared to the Chief Justice of India then it is made in the fiduciary capacity. And all other correspondence and discussions between the Chief Justice and other constitutional functionaries is shared within the fiduciary capacity under section 8(1)(e).

Arguments by Respondent:

The respondent contended that the disclosure of information do not interferes with the independence of judiciary and the person under the Right to information Act has a right to seek information in fact the disclosure would helps in transparency and would serve larger public interest.

Further there no fiduciary relationship exists between Chief Justice of India and other constitutional functionary under section 8(1)(e) of RTI Act. It was also contended that the fiduciary relation can only exist with the public. Further the respondent argued that “the duty of public servant is not to act for the benefit of another public servant”[1]

DECISION

On 13 November,2019 Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and delivered the judgment in favour of respondent and upheld the Delhi High Court judgment by directing the Central Public Information Officer, Supreme Court to furnish information regarding collegium decision-making, personal assets of judges, correspondence with CJI. No general decision came up relating to the universal disclosure of above-mentioned information.

It was further held that bar on disclosure of information can not be imposed on the ground of free and frank expression of collegium member and the disclosure will be based on case to case.
Khanna j. is of view that “Determination of public interest will be based on case to case” .

REFERENCES

https://indiankanoon.org/doc/101637927/

www.scobserver.in

[1]Central Board of Secondary Education and anr. V. Aditya Bandopadhyay and ors. (2011) 8 SCC 497

This post has been written by Mamta Kumari, a law student from Banasthali Vidyapith.

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