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RTI ombudsman knocks Chief Justice's door

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Apr 7 (UNI) Touching the highest arm of the law for the first time, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has sought opinion from the Chief Justice of India on how to help a citizen who used the Right to Information Act (RTI) to access information locked up in the CJ's Secretariat.

The CIC's ruling earlier this week followed counter petitions by a Delhi resident and the Supreme Court Registry over access to information about a complaint against a High Court judge made to the Chief Justice of India.

The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Supreme Court informed the CIC that neither the apex court nor the Chief Justice of India are the appointing or disciplinary authority in respect of judges of High Courts and the Registry of Supreme Court does not have any jurisdiction to deal with complaints against them.

Complaints against High Court judges have thus to be addressed to the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court. If any such complaint is received in the Registry of Supreme Court, it can only place it before the Chief Justice ''and thereafter it has no access to or information about that complaint,'' the CPIO said.

Countering this, complainant Subhash Chandra Agarwal demanded action on a February 7 ruling of the CIC when the CPIO was asked to inform him about the reference and date of the orders transferring his application to the High Court.

On February 7, counsel for the Supreme Court had informed the CIC that Mr Agarwal's application had been kept in the relevant High Court file. Since the High Court was a separate public authority under the provisions of the RTI Act, the applicant should approach that public authority, he had said.

The CIC, however, ruled in favour of the complainant who had sought ''actionable information'' from the court.

However, on February 23, the CPIO informed the CIC that an incorrect position was conveyed to the Commission by the counsel for the court earlier that month and demanded a review of the CIC's decision.

The CPIO said Mr Agarwal's application was not transferred to the High Court, but was placed before the then Chief Justice, and directed to be ''kept on record in the relevant High Court file, i.e. the file pertaining to the concerned High Court, maintained in the Secretariat of the Chief Justice of India''.

While taking note of the correction, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and Information Commissioner Padma Balasubramaniam again ruled that the information provided by the CPIO was ''clouded in obscurity, as it did not indicate the manner of accessing the information nor the form of redress that the appellant might seek''.

It, however, did not impose any penalty on the CPIO saying he could not be accused of malafide since handling of information as required under the RTI Act, 2005, ''will require the establishment of new procedures and processes in the high fora of the judiciary, a matter which is under process''.

Since the information was on the file in the Court of the Chief Justice of India, ''the Registrar will seek the orders of Hon'ble the Chief Justice as to the manner in which the information can be accessed in keeping with the decorum vital to the administration of justice in the highest Court in the land'', the CIC said.

In its April 3 order, the CIC sought a reply from the Apex Court ''within 15 working days from the date of issue of this decision''.


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