HC reserves order on plea challenging CIC order denying details of SC collegium’s Dec 12, 2018 meeting

New Delhi, Mar 28 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Monday reserved its order on a plea challenging the Central Information Commission [CIC]’s order dismissing an appeal under the Right to Information [RTI] Act seeking the agenda of the Supreme Court collegium meeting on December 12, 2018, when certain decisions were purportedly taken on elevation of judges to the Supreme Court.

The plea came up for hearing before Justice Yashwant Varma, who briefly heard the petitioner’s counsel and reserved the order.

Petitioner and activist Anjali Bhardwaj, represented through advocate Prashant Bhushan, challenged the CIC’s December 16, 2021 order by which her second appeal was dismissed, and urged it to direct the authorities to disclose the available information sought in the February 26, 2019 RTI application.

The petition said that on January 23, 2019, Justice Madan B. Lokur, who was a part of the December 12, 2018 collegium meeting and retired on December 30, 2018, in an interview organized byThe Leaflet expressed his disappointment that the December 12, 2018 collegium resolution was not uploaded on the Supreme Court website.

“He is quoted as having said, ‘Once we take certain decisions, they have to be uploaded. I am disappointed that they were not.’ In such circumstances, in the interest of transparency in the process of appointments in the judiciary, on February 26, 2019 the petitioner through an RTI application to the CPIO of the Supreme Court sought copy of the agenda, decisions, and resolution of the collegium meeting held on December 12, 2018,” the plea said.

It is pertinent to mention that 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 received the nod for the elevation to the Supreme Court in the collegium meeting on December 12, 2018.

The matter allegedly got leaked after which the issue was kept in abeyance by Justice Gogoi till January, 2019 because of the winter break which started on December 15, 2018, the book said.

In January 2019, a new collegium got constituted after the retirement of Justice Lokur.

The new collegium, in its resolution on January 10, 2019, did not clear the names of Justice Nandrajog and Justice Menon for elevation to the Supreme Court, according to the book.

The petition has not mentioned judges whose names were allegedly cleared.

Initially, Bhardwaj filed an RTI before the Supreme Court seeking copies of the agenda, decisions taken and resolutions passed in the December 12, 2018 meeting.

However, the Supreme Court Central Public Information Officer [CPIO] refused to provide the information on grounds that were held to be not proper by the First Appellate Authority [FAA] and are, therefore, not relevant, it said.

However, while disposing the appeal against the denial by the CPIO, the FAA held that in view of the subsequent collegium resolution of January 10, 2019, it was clear that though certain decisions were taken in the collegium meeting of December 12, 2018, the required consultations could not be completed; therefore, no resolution was formally passed, and hence information asked for could not be supplied to the petitioner, the petition said.

It added that in the second appeal, the CIC also relied upon the January 10, 2019 resolution and held that the agenda of the collegium’s December 12, 2018 meeting was clear from the subsequent resolution of January 10, 2019, and the copy of the decision and the resolution of December 2018 did not exist on record in terms of Section 2(f) of the RTI Act and therefore, could not be supplied to the petitioner.

The petition sought setting aside of the CIC order on the grounds that the petitioner has asked for “a copy of the agenda” of the collegium meeting of December 12, 2018 and not a summary or reference thereof.

“Therefore, CIC has erred in holding that agenda was clear from subsequent resolution dated January 10, 2019 and therefore need not be provided. No exception provided under the Act has been taken or given as to why ‘a copy’ of the agenda cannot be supplied to the petitioner,” it said.

The Supreme Court FAA order, while citing the relevant portion of the collegium resolution on January 10, 2019, had said, “The Collegium comprising the Chief Justice of India and four senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court viz. Justices Madan B Lokur, A K Sikri, S A Bobde and N V Ramana met on Wednesday, 12th December, 2018 to discuss the Agenda viz., (1) to consider and recommend names for appointment as Judges in the Supreme Court and (2) to consider proposals for transfer of Chief Justices and Judges of High Courts.”

“The then Collegium on 12th December, 2018 took certain decisions. However, the required consultation could not be undertaken and completed as the winter vacation of the Court intervened. By the time the Court re-opened, the composition of the Collegium underwent a change. After extensive deliberations on 5th / 6th January, 2019, the newly constituted Collegium deemed it appropriate to have a fresh look at the matter and also to consider the proposals in the light of the additional material that became available,” it had said.