'Collegium Discussions Cannot Be In Public Domain' : Supreme Court Dismisses Plea To Disclose Details Of Dec 2018 Meeting Under RTI

Update: 2022-12-09 05:24 GMT

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a petition which sought for details of the Supreme Court collegium's meeting of December 12, 2018 under the Right to Information Act, observing that the discussion cannot be disclosed to the public and that only the final decision of the Collegium need to be uploaded in the website.

The Court observed that only the final resolution can be considered as the decision and whatever is discussed is not required to not be in public domain, that too under the RTI Act. The petitioner, RTI Activist Anjali Bharadwaj, had placed reliance on the interviews given by one of the judges who was a party to the December 2018 meeting (Justice Madan Lokur) that the decision to recommend the elevation to two High Court Chief Justices was finalized in the said meeting and that the said decision was changed after his retirement. Based on the said reports, the petitioner had sought the details of the collegium meeting of December 2018.

Rejecting the request, the bench led by Justice MR Shah stated that from the subsequent resolution passed on January 10, 2019, it appeared that no final decision was taken during the December 12, 2018 meeting.

"Some discussions might have taken place, but unless and until a final decision is taken after due consultation and on the basis of the final decision a resolution is drawn, whatever discussions which have taken place cannot be  said to be a final decision of the collegium. The actual resolution passed by the collegium only can be said to be a final decision of the collegium and till then, at the most, it can be said to be a tentative decision during the consultation. It is to be noted that a final decision is taken by the collegium only after due consultation.  During the consultation if some discussion takes place, but no final decision is taken and no resolution is drawn, it cannot be said that any final decision is taken by the collegium", Justice MR Shah pronounced the order.

"The collegium is a multi-member body whose decision embodying the resolution that will be formally drawn up and signed. When in the subsequent resolution dated 10.01.2019 it is specifically mentioned that in the earlier meeting held on 12.12.2018, though some decisions were taken, but ultimately the consultations were not complete and concluded and therefore the agenda items were adjourned. Therefore, as such no final decision was taken which has culminated into a final resolution drawn and signed by all the members of the collegium. The same was not required to be disclosed to the public domain that too under the RTI Act. Whatever is discussed shall not be in the public domain. As per the resolution dated 03.10.2017, only the the final resolution and the decision is required to be uploaded in the Supreme Court website".

So far as the reliance placed on the press reports of the former collegium member, the bench said, "we do not want to comment upon the same".

The bench comprising Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar was considering a Special Leave Petition filed by RTI activist Anjali Bharadwaj challenging a Delhi High Court Judgement that dismissed her plea for information under the Right to Information Act regarding decisions taken by the Collegium in a meeting dated December 12, 2018.

That day, the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and four senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court—Justices Madan B Lokur, AK Sikri, SA Bobde and NV Ramana took certain decisions regarding the appointment of judges. The meeting's details were not uploaded on the Court's website. Interestingly, later on, those decisions were overturned.
In the resolution of January 10, 2019, the Collegium recorded that the decision of December 12, 2018 was revisited "in the light of additional materials".
After Anjali Bhardwaj moved an RTI application seeking details of the Collegium's decision on December 12, 2018, the Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court denied it, citing sections 8(1) (b), (e), and (J) of the RTI Act.
There after, Bhardwaj had moved before the First Appellate Authority under the Act. It upheld the decision of the PIO while adding that the reasons given by the CPIO to deny the information were improper.
Challenging this, Bhardwaj moved an appeal before the Central Information Commission, contending that even if no resolution had been passed on December 12, 2018, a copy of the meeting's agenda and the decisions taken therein could not have been denied without citing any exemptions.
The CIC upheld the denial of information by the Appellate Authority while stating that the final outcome of the meeting was discussed in the subsequent resolution of January 10, 2019.
In this backdrop, a plea was filed before a Single Judge of the Delhi High Court, referring to an interview by Justice (Retd.) Madan Lokur (in January 2019) expressing his disappointment on the Collegium resolution of December 2018 not being uploaded. A single bench of the High Court dismissed the plea in March 2022, refusing to place reliance on the media reports regarding Justice Lokur's comments.
This order was unsuccessfully appealed before a Division Bench of the High Court. Assailing that order, the petitioner moved the Top Court.
Case Title: Anjali Bhardwaj vs CPIO, SC (RTI Cell) SLP (C) No. 21019/2022
Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 1015

For Petitioner(s) Mr. Prashant Bhushan, AOR Ms. Ria Yadav, Adv. Ms./Mr. Cheryl D'Souza, Adv. Mr. Rahul Gupta, Adv. 

Right to Information Act 2005 - Discussions of Supreme Court collegium -Discussions of collegium are not required to be disclosed in public domain under the RTI Act - Whatever is discussed shall not be in the public domain - Petition seeking details of the collegium meeting of December 12, 2018 dismissed - Petitioner relied on news reports about the statements given by a former collegium member that certain decisions were finalized in the said collegium meeting, which were reversed after his retirement - Para 5, 5.1
Supreme Court Collegium - The actual resolution passed by the Collegium only can be said to be a final decision of the Collegium and till then at the most, it can be said to be a tentative decision during the consultation -During the consultation if some discussion takes place but no final decision is taken and no resolution is drawn, it cannot be said that any final decision is taken by the Collegium -
only the final resolution and the final decision is required to be uploaded on the Supreme Court's website- Para 5, 5.1


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