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India Supreme Court rules on disclosure of judges’ assets and transparency in collegium system
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India Supreme Court rules on disclosure of judges’ assets and transparency in collegium system

The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday upheld a 2009 Delhi High Court order that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) falls under the definition of “public authority” under the Right to Information Act (RTI). Therefore, plaintiff has the right to information under Section 2(j), in the form of declarations of assets made pursuant to the 1997 Resolution. In addition, the information was not exempt under Section 8(1)(e), because the Chief Justice did not hold such declarations in a fiduciary capacity or relationship.

The court observed that the purpose of the RTI Act is “to ensure transparency and accountability and to make Indian democracy more participatory,” and “to enable citizens to secure greater access to information available with public authorities.” To achieve the purpose, court must “balance diverse interests including efficient governance, optimum use of limited fiscal operations and preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information.”

On the issue of right to privacy under Section 8(1)(j) and confidentiality under Section 11 of the RTI, the court said that while the right to privacy is not expressly guaranteed in the Constitution of India, it is now recognized as a basic fundamental right, according to a Constitutional Bench decision in K.S. Puttaswamy and Another v. Union of India and Others. Therefore, the issue of whether judges’ information is subject to protection could not be decided in an absolute term, but must apply a public interest test as applicable vide Section 8(1)(j) and proviso to Section 11 (1) of the RTI.

The court ultimately ordered that the Central Public Information Officer for the Supreme Court of India furnish information on the judges of the Supreme Court who had declared their assets. Such disclosure would not in any way, according to the court, impinge upon the personal information and right to privacy of the judges and would not effect the right to confidentiality, which would be the case where details and contents of personal assets in the declaration are called for and sought.