The primacy of RTI has been upheld. A Constitution Bench ruled that the office of Chief Justice of India comes under the ambit of the Right to Information Act. The verdict, emphasising what the Delhi high court ruled nine years ago, is very significant though it comes with many caveats to protect the right to privacy of judges.
Checks and balances are the very foundation of a democracy, and bringing public institutions, including the Supreme Court, under the RTI is a major check. Of course, what information commissioners do when providing RTI information to do with various arms of official India will determine how transparent and accountable public institutions will be.
The law can only lay down the broad principle that transparency be seen as a desirable quality in the running of the administration. How far the balances come into play in protecting judicial independence will determine how effectively RTI can be used with regard to the judiciary.
What the ruling establishes is the primacy of the RTI Act as a democratic tool in people’s hands. Had the RTI been applicable to the highest judiciary when Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi faced awkward moments in a sexual harassment claim by a law clerk, we may have known more about what transpired. But in leading this bench towards striking a blow for transparency, he will leave a positive legacy.
A significant point made by one judge is that the judiciary, while wielding sweeping powers through the collegium on the appointment of judges, cannot function in total isolation. The judgment itself goes way beyond the judiciary, and stresses the RTI Act’s importance at a time when the executive has run it into the ground with its stranglehold on the appointment of information commissioners.