Injudicious at best


It is strange that the supreme court has approached itself with a complaint relating to its own role and responsibilities and then decided to grant relief to itself. The court has never been comfortable with the Central Information Commission’s views on its obligations under the Right to Information Act and has tried to stonewall legitimate queries of citizens on the assets and liabilities of judges. It does not yet accept that the Chief Justice of India is a public authority under the RTI Act, though the spirit of the Act and an enlightened view of the role of the judiciary would support that position. The latest of the court’s actions of doubtful merit is its stay on the CIC’s directives to disclose details pertaining to the decision of its collegium to appoint three judges superseding some others and the communication between the CJI and a Madras High Court judge on the latter’s charge about the interference of a Union minister in a case.

There is no reason why the details of appointment of judges should be kept a secret. It is difficult to see how the independence of the judiciary and its prestige will be compromised if it is shared with the people. The selection of judges should not be a secretive process and the reluctance of the court to impart any transparency to it strengthens the case for changing the procedure and giving a role for the executive also in it. The supreme court bench which stayed the order of the CIC promised that the court will be objective in its examination of the issue and that there is no backtracking on the right to information. But the widespread impression that the judiciary does not want itself to be subjected to the right to information does not seem to be off the mark.

The Madras High Court judge’s comments about the attempt to influence him were made in open court and the people have the right to know what happened to the charge and how it was handled, especially because it related to the image of the judiciary and the conduct of a representative of the people. Withholding that information is again against public interest. The supreme court’s decisions on both these issues show how unresponsive it is to the people’s right to know, which ironically, it has upheld and expanded.

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