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Assets disclosure should not impinge on judges privacy: SC

New Delhi :  The Supreme Court on Wednesday while holding that the office of Chief Justice of India is a public authority under the Right to Information Act, said that disclosure related to assets of judges should not impinge upon the personal information and right to privacy of the judges.

The top court order came while dismissing the appeal of Secretary General of the Supreme court and directed the CPIO, Supreme Court of India to furnish information on the judges of the Supreme Court who had declared their assets.

“Such disclosure would not, in any way, impinge upon the personal information and right to privacy of the judges. The fiduciary relationship rule in terms of clause (e) to Section 8(1) of the RTI Act is inapplicable,” a five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khannasaid.

Under clause (e) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information. 

 “It would not affect the right to confidentiality of the judges and their right to protect personal information and privacy, which would be the case where details and contents of personal assets in the declaration are called for and sought, in which event the public interest test as applicable vide Section 8(1)(j) and proviso to Section 11 (1) of the RTI Act would come into operation,” the court said. 

The court opined this view while opining that public interest in access to information refers to something that is in the interest of the public welfare to know. 

Emphasizing that public welfare is widely different from what is of interest to the public, it said that “something which is of interest to the public” and “something which is in the public interest” are two separate and different parameters citing example that the public may be interested in private matters with which they may have no concern and pressing need to know. 

“However, such interest of the public in private matters would repudiate and directly traverse the protection of privacy. The object and purpose behind the specific exemption vide clause (j) to Section 8(1) is to protect and shield oneself from unwarranted access to personal information and to protect facets like reputation, honour, etc. associated with the right to privacy,” the court said.

It further added that there is a public interest in the maintenance of confidentiality in the case of private individuals and even government.

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