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Delhi High Court upheld the single judge order which had ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) comes within the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) Act.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justices Vikramjeet Sen and S Muralidhar dismissed the appeal which had challenged the single judge order that the CJI is a public authority and accountable to the people.

The CJI had challenged the single judge order on the grounds that bringing the CJI office within the RTI Act would hamper judicial independence.

The bench in its 88-page judgement held that judicial independence is not a judge’s privilege but a responsibility cast upon him and the CJI cannot be said to have fiduciary relationship (between a trustee and a beneficiary) with other judges.

While pronouncing the judgement in a packed courtroom, Chief Justice A P Shah, who is due to retire next month, announced that all the judges of the High Court will be making their assets public within a week, details of which will be put on its official website.

The CJI has consistently been maintaining that his office does not come within the ambit of the RTI Act and the information including the declaration of assets of its judges cannot be made public under it. The CJI also said that judges need independence in their functioning and couldn’t be put under public scrutiny, as it would hamper their functioning and independence.

The single bench of Justice S Ravindra Bhatt, had earlier on September 2, held that the CJI was a public authority and his office came under the purview of the RTI Act.

‘Declaration of assets by Supreme Court judges is an information under Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act. The information pertaining to declaration given to the CJI and the contents of such declaration are information and subject to the provisions of the RTI Act,’ the judge said, upholding the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) order directing the Supreme Court to reveal information whether judges are declaring their assets to the Chief Justice of India or not.

On the issue whether disclosure of information was ‘unworkable’ due to lack of clarity about the details as well as lack of security, the court said the CJI can evolve uniform standards and devise relevant formats and periodicity of declaration.

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