The Supreme Court of India (Subhash Chandra Aggarwal vs. Registrar General, Supreme Court of India) today declared that the medical expenses of Judges are not qualified to come within the ambit of the Right to Information Act. The Apex Court rejected an appeal against Delhi High Court decision which had held that information about doctor's visit expenses of judges and their families can't be revealed.
Prashant Bhushan appearing for the petitioner pointed out that Supreme Court ought not to be reluctant to disclose the information just because it concerns the judges. He said that there is a public impression that judiciary is not willing to follow the same standards of transparency and accountability, that it expects from other public authorities and public servants.
Bhushan said that unfortunately judges acting as a judge in their own cause are deciding whether information concerning themselves is to be divulged or not, and are overturning orders of the Central Information Commission which has directed disclosure of information concerning appointment, transfers and medical expenses of judges.
The above is doubly unfortunate because the Right to Information Act was enacted pursuant to several judgments of the Supreme Court saying that right to know is a fundamental right and people have a right to know every public act. Supreme Court had also went to the extent of directing all election candidates (who were not even public servants) to disclose their and their family member’s financial assets, their criminal antecedents and educational qualifications.
Bhushan submitted that Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act only permits non-disclosure of “personal information which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual”. Thus information concerning expenditure of public money cannot be exempted from disclosure since it cannot be said to be information which has no relationship with public activity or public interest.
Bhushan stated that if this information is denied, then similar information about medical expenses of ministers, legislators and bureaucrats would also become inaccessible to the public, which would harm public interest. Huge sum of public money is spent and misused by politicians for their medical expenditure, which ought to be known to the public.
It was pointed out to the Supreme Court that a refusal to entertain this petition would set a bad precedent and would create public disquiet. However, the Supreme Court still dismissed the petition. This shows that extent to which the judiciary goes to scuttle transparency and accountability in its functioning.
A year ago, the Delhi High Court had held that repayments of medical costs of the Supreme Court judges can't be revealed under the RTI Act, saying it doesn't serve any public interest.
Justice Vibhu Bakhru had then held that the Central Information Commission (CIC) was wrong to order the Supreme Court Registry to give the information sought and had said, "medical records are not liable to be disclosed unless it is shown that the same is in larger public interest".
Today, the Apex Court maintained the judgment pronounced by the Delhi High Court. Earlier, the CIC had ordered that the Supreme Court Registry should maintain reimbursement availed by judges, for the last three years so that the same can be given to RTI Applicants. However, the view of the Commission failed to find favour with the Courts, with the matter now being disposed off by the Supreme Court.