15th November 2019
TOPIC: Executive and Judiciary. (Paper II)
Discuss judicial transparency that will follow now that CJI’s office is under the RTI act.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant that is often used to highlight the need for disclosure of matters related to the public interest through the RTI mechanism.
- The declaration of assets by ministers and legislators, besides electoral candidates, has shed light on public authorities.
- It provided the citizenry with more relevant information about their representatives.
- Judges of the Supreme Court had refused to share information on their personal assets, citing the lack of public interest.
- 5-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a “public authority” under the RTI Act.It enables the disclosure of information such as the judges’ personal assets.
- The judgment’s majority opinion emphasised the need for transparency and accountability and that “disclosure is a facet of public interest”.
- They asserted that judicial independence was not secured by secrecy and argued for the need for proper calibration of transparency in light of the importance of judicial independence.
Balance with the right to privacy
- The Bench argued that the right to know under the RTI Act was not absolute.
- It had to be balanced with the right to privacy of judges.
- The key take away from the judgment is that disclosure of the details of serving judges’ personal assets was not a violation of their right to privacy.
Other parts of the judgment
- Information related to issues such as judicial appointments will also be subject to the test of public interest and procedures mandated in the RTI Act that specifies that views of third parties must be sought.
- It lays out the importance of the assessment of public interest in an RTI query.
- The RTI Act is a strong weapon that enhances accountability, citizen activism, and participatory democracy even if its implementation has come under strain in recent years.
The Supreme Court judgment paves the way for greater transparency. It could impinge upon issues such as disclosure under the RTI Act by other institutions such as registered political parties. This is vital as political party financing is a murky area today, marked by opacity and exacerbated by the issue of electoral bonds, precluding citizens from being fully informed on sources of party income.
15th November 2019
TOPIC: Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India. (Paper I)
Discuss the Sabarimala judgment and its implications.
Ordinarily, a reference to a seven-judge bench for an authoritative pronouncement on the entire gamut of issues arising from Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution, which protect the religious freedoms of individuals and denominations, would have been welcome.
- However, the order of a constitution bench in making such a reference, while delivering the verdict on petitions seeking review of last year’s judgment allowing women in the 10-50 age groups to offer worship at the Sabarimala temple, is problematic.
- The order, passed by a majority of three judges, with two dissenting, means that the review petition, as well as fresh writ petitions, on the issue will be kept pending until there is clarity on the nature of religious rights.
- The majority, headed by the CJI Ranjan Gogoi, held that the petitions against the 2018 verdict, which laid down that the practice of keeping women of ovulating age out of the shrine is discriminatory and violative of the right to equality, have reviewed the question whether an individuals’ right to worship can outweigh a religious group’s right to manage the affairs of its religion.
The omnibus reconsideration:
- An issue resolved by a 4:1 majority is sought to be reconsidered by formulating fresh questions on the interplay between religious freedom and other fundamental rights, especially the right to equality.
- The majority anticipates that similar basic questions on the conflict between individual freedom and constitutionally-protected religious beliefs may arise in other situations too.
- It cites pending petitions concerning the entry of women into a dargah, the entry of Parsi women married to non-Parsis into an agyari, and the practice of female genital mutilation in this genre.
- It is well-established that freedom of religion, under Article 25, is subject to public order, morality and health, and it may not be difficult for any court to test the validity of the practice against the restriction on the grounds of a women’s health, and this may not require an exalted panel of seven judges.
- In keeping the petitions on Sabarimala pending further, the court has displayed a disquieting inability to stand by its previous transformative judgment.
- Further, it may lead to a repeat of the unsavory incidents of the last year when religious groups and political activists blocked and attacked women devotees.
An omnibus reconsideration of all issues related to religious freedom was not the way out of the serious issues posed by the Sabarimala judgment.