Supreme Court says collegium system shouldn’t be derailed over “some busybody’s” statements, stating it’s one of the most transparent institutions.
It says it doesn’t want to comment on what former Supreme Court judges, who were once a part of the Supreme Court collegium, are saying about the system where existing judges appoint judges to constitutional courts amidst divisions within the judiciary and a festering dispute with the government.
The bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar said, “Nowadays, it’s popular to comment on decision (of the collegium) made when they (former judges) were part of it. We don’t want to get into their comments”.
In this case, the top court was hearing a petition from RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj who argued that the Delhi High Court dismissed her request for the agenda of the Supreme Court collegium’s meeting on December 12, 2018 that purportedly decided to raise some judges.
Former apex court judge Justice MB Lokur, on the SC collegium in 2018, told Bhardwaj’s attorney that the decisions taken at a collegium meeting on December 12 should’ve been put on the top court’s website, Bhushan said.
On December 12, 2018, the collegium headed by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Lokur, AK Sikri, SA Bobde and NV Ramana (all retired) had purportedly taken certain decisions regarding appointments to the top court and proposals for transferring chief justices and high court judges. Still, those resolutions weren’t posted on the Supreme Court website.
As a result of Justice Lokur’s retirement, the collegium took another decision on January 10, 2019, to recommend to the center that Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna be elevated. It was decided to take a fresh look at the recommendations dated December 12, 2018 as they couldn’t be finalized.
The collegium decided to reconsider earlier proposals after getting more information.
According to Bhushan, who narrated the purported events, the petitioner is just asking for three documents about the December 12 colllegium meeting.
Basically, I’m wondering if the Right to Information Act covers the collegium’s decision. It mentions the decision on December 12, 2018 in the subsequent meeting,” he said.
In this case, the bench said no written decisions were taken in the 2018 meeting.
“Where did you say it wasn’t a written decision, but an oral one?” Bhushan asked.
According to him, this court has given directions about transparency in the appointment process in another case regarding filling vacancies of Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners filed by petitioner Bhardwaj.
Why shouldn’t the people know what decisions were made at a particular collegium meeting? ” he asked, adding let the Supreme Court Public Information Officer say the December 12, 2018 decision was not a written decision.
“Is the Supreme Court immune from RTI Act?” he asked and asserted the Right to Information Act is a fundamental right.
The top court said it would pass orders on the plea and reserved its verdict.
On July 27, the Delhi High Court dismissed Bhardwaj’s appeal challenging a single judge’s order rejecting a plea seeking the agenda of the Supreme Court collegium’s meeting held on December 12, 2018, when certain decisions were purportedly taken on the elevation of judges to the apex court.
It had said the order of the single judge, as well as the orders of the authorities refusing to direct disclosure, did not require any interference.
Bhardwaj had challenged before the single judge the CIC’s December 16, 2021 order by which her second appeal was dismissed and sought a direction to the authorities to disclose the available information sought under the February 26, 2019 RTI application.
Her petition said on January 23, 2019, Justice Madan B Lokur, who was a part of the collegium meeting and retired on December 30, 2018, had in an interview expressed his disappointment that the December 12, 2018, collegium resolution was not uploaded on the Supreme Court website.
According to former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s autobiography ‘Justice for the Judge’, the names of Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, the then Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court, and Justice Rajendra Menon, the then Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, had been cleared for elevation to the Supreme Court at the collegium’s December 12, 2018 meeting.
According to the book, the matter leaked, and Justice Gogoi kept it in abeyance until January 2019 because of winter break.
After Justice Lokur retired, a new collegium was constituted.
According to the book, the new collegium didn’t get Justice Nandrajog and Justice Menon to the Supreme Court in its resolution of January 10.
Any judges whose names were allegedly cleared weren’t mentioned in the petition.
At first, Bhardwaj filed an RTI application with the Supreme Court to get the agenda, decisions and resolutions from the December 12 meeting.
The Supreme Court’s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) refused to provide the information, and the First Appellate Authority (FAA) ruled on the appeal against the denial. According to the subsequent collegium resolution of January 10, 2019, even though certain decisions had been taken at the December 12, 2018 collegium meeting, no formal resolution had been passed due to the fact that consultations couldn’t be completed.
During the second appeal, the court was told that the CIC also relied on the January 10, 2019 resolution and determined that the agenda of the collegium’s December 12, 2018 meeting was clear from the subsequent resolution of January 10, 2019. The petitioner couldn’t get a copy of the decision and December 2018 resolution because they didn’t exist on record under Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act.