Only a resolution drawn and signed by all the judges in the collegium can be said to be the final decision of the collegium, the Supreme Court declared on Friday as it dismissed a petition demanding information about a 2018 collegium meeting under the right to information (RTI) act.
“The collegium is a multimember body whose decision is in the form of a resolution. Until a resolution is drawn and signed by all the members of the collegium, it cannot be said to be a final decision. Whatever is arrived at during the process of consultation, it can at best be said to be a tentative decision,” held a bench of justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar.
It added that the content of the discussion does not require to come out in the public domain and therefore, the provisions of the RTI Act shall not be applicable to such consultation.
“Only the final decision requires to be uploaded,” said the court, refusing to entertain the petition by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj.
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In her plea, Bhardwaj had cited statements and press reports quoting former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur according to which the collegium resolution was not uploaded on the SC website despite a decision taken at the meeting on December 12, 2018, to elevate 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, as judges to the top court.
According to reports, Justice Lokur, who retired on December 30, 2018, and reportedly took part in the collegium meeting that approved the names of the two high court chief justices, said he was “disappointed” that the decision taken by the collegium on December 12, 2018, was not “followed and put out.”
While hearing the petition on December 2, the bench called itself the “most transparent institution”, adding the collegium system should not be derailed on the basis of statements of “some busybody.”
It further disapproved of adverse comments made by its former judges against the selection mechanism of the collegium, terming it a “fashion”.
Refusing to pay heed to the petitioner’s emphasis on justice Lokur’s statements, it said on that day, “We don’t want to comment on anything said by former members. Nowadays, it has become a fashion for the former members to comment upon the decision when they were part of the collegium.”
Bhardwaj had approached the Supreme Court against the denial of information to her by the top court’s administration regarding the agenda and other pertinent information about the December 2018 collegium meeting. Her appeals before the central information commission (CIC) and the Delhi high court also failed to elicit any positive response.
The Delhi high court, meanwhile affirming the decision of the public information officer of the SC administration earlier this year, held that in the absence of any formal resolution being adopted and signed by the members of the SC collegium for the said meeting, the authorities rightly took the position that there was no material liable to be disclosed. Further, it said that “unsubstantiated and unverified” press reports cannot be taken cognisance of.
Lately, the union government and the Supreme Court seems to be at loggerheads over the collegium system of appointing judges.
While various functionaries such as Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar and union law minister Kiren Rijiju have adversely commented on the system of selecting judges for constitutional courts, a Supreme Court bench has repeatedly pulled up the government over delays in clearing appointments, clarifying the collegium system is the law of the land which the executive is bound to follow.