New Delhi: In a historic judgment, the Supreme Court has said that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a public authority under the purview of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

A five-judge Constitution bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justices NV Ramana, DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna pronounced the verdict on a petition filed by a Supreme Court Secretary-General challenging the January 2010 judgment of the Delhi High Court.

The high court in its order had declared the CJI’s office a “public authority” and said that it should come under the RTI Act. The bench had reserved the order on 4 April. The chief justice had earlier observed that in the name of transparency, one cannot destroy the institution.

The apex court also noted that the right to privacy and confidentiality is an important aspect and has to be balanced while giving out information from the CJI office under the Act.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal, had contended that courts had time and again directed other instituted to become transparent. But when it came to Judiciary, it was close to sharing information.

Advocate General KK Venugopal, representing the Supreme Court’s secretary-general, had opposed the disclosure of information under RTI.

In a landmark verdict on January 10, 2010, the Delhi High Court had held that the office of the chief justice of India comes within the ambit of the RTI law. At that time KG Balakrishnan was the CJI.

The lawyer had described the reluctance of the judiciary in parting information under the Right To Information Act as “unfortunate” and “disturbing”, asking: “Do judges inhabit different universe?”

He had submitted that the apex court has always stood for transparency in the functioning of other organs of State, but it develops cold feet when its own issues require attention.

Referring to the RTI provisions, Bhushan had said they also deal with exemptions and information that cannot be given to applicants, but the public interest should always “outweigh” personal interests if the person concerned is holding or about to hold a public office.

Dealing with “judicial independence”, he said the National Judicial Accountability Commission Act was struck down for protecting the judiciary against interference from the executive, but this did not mean that judiciary is free from “public scrutiny”.

“This is not independence from accountability. Independence of judiciary means it has to be independent of the executive and not independent from the common public. People are entitled to know as to what public authorities are doing,” Bhushan had said.

(With PTI Inputs)