Collegium’s tentative decision cannot be brought in public domain: SC
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a plea seeking disclosure of the details of a collegium meeting held on December 12, 2018 under the Right to Information Act, underlining a “tentative decision” of the multi-member body cannot be brought in the public domain.
A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar said only resolutions drawn and signed by all collegium members can be said to be a final decision. Tentative resolutions drawn upon discussion and consultation among the members cannot be said to be final unless they are signed by all of them, it said.
“Collegium is a multi-member body whose tentative decision cannot be brought in the public domain,” it noted.
The top court said it cannot place reliance on media reports and the interview of a former member of the collegium, and it doesn’t want to comment on statements made by the former judge.
In a resolution passed on January 10, 2019, the collegium, whose combination was changed due to the retirement of Justice MB Lokur, said in its meeting on December 12, 2018 only consultations were held on certain names but no final decision was taken.
The top court passed the verdict on a petition by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj against a Delhi High Court order dismissing her plea seeking the agenda of the Supreme Court Collegium’s meeting held on December 12, 2018 when certain decisions were purportedly taken on the elevation of some judges to the apex court.
On December 2, the top court had said the existing collegium system should not be derailed on the basis of statements of “some busybody”, asserting the top court is one of the most transparent institutions.
Amid divisions within the judiciary and its festering dispute with the government over the system under which existing judges appoint judges to constitutional courts, it had said the court does not want to comment on what a few former apex court judges, who were once members of the Supreme Court collegium, are now saying about the mechanism.
On December 12, 2018, the collegium headed by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Lokur, AK Sikri, SA Bobde and NV Ramana (all retired) had purportedly taken certain decisions with regard to appointment of judges to the top court and proposals for transfer of chief justices and judges of high courts but those resolutions were not uploaded on the SC web site.
Later, on January 10, 2019, the collegium, following the retirement of Justice Lokur, took another decision to recommend to the centre the elevation of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna and said the recommendations dated December 12, 2018 proposed earlier could not be finalised as it was decided to have a fresh look at them.
At the January 10 meeting, the collegium decided to reconsider the earlier proposals in the light of additional material that became available.
On July 27, the Delhi High Court had dismissed Bhardwaj’s appeal challenging a single judge’s order rejecting her plea seeking the agenda of the Supreme Court collegium’s meeting held on December 12, 2018.
It had said the order of the single judge, as well as the orders of the authorities refusing to direct disclosure, did not require any interference.
Bhardwaj had challenged before the single judge the CIC’s December 16, 2021 order by which her second appeal was dismissed, and sought a direction to the authorities to disclose the available information she had wanted under the February 26, 2019 RTI application.
Her petition said on January 23, 2019, Justice Madan B Lokur, who was a part of the collegium meeting and retired on December 30, 2018, had in an interview expressed his disappointment that the December 12, 2018 collegium resolution was not uploaded on the Supreme Court website.
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 been cleared for elevation to the Supreme Court at the collegium’s December 12, 2018 meeting.
The matter allegedly got leaked, after which the issue was kept in abeyance by Justice Gogoi till January 2019 because of winter break which started on December 15, 2018, the book said.
In January 2019, a new collegium was constituted after the retirement of Justice Lokur.
The new collegium, in its resolution of 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 did not mention the names of any judges whose names were allegedly cleared.