Chief Justice of India (CJI) K G Balakrishnan’s assertion that judges “are not bound to disclose their assets to the public” and that “there is no statute or law which insists that the judges or the superior courts should submit declaration of their assets” has been questioned.
And the man who is questioning his contention is none other than the one who was the force behind the resolution passed by the Full Court of the Supreme Court on May 7,1997 in this regard.
It was this resolution which required judges of the apex court to make a declaration of their assets to the CJI.
Justice J S Verma,who was the CJI when the Full Court “unanimously” passed the resolution,told The Sunday Express that it was never the intention of the SC Full Court to keep the list of assets secret or away from public glare.
While Balakrishnan on Saturday said his refusal to make the assets public was as per the SC resolution as “it is not a public document”,Verma holds a contrary view.
“The resolution was not meant to achieve some kind of private satisfaction. In fact,after the resolution was passed,I even wrote to the Prime Minister,recommending that the Government bring in some kind of legislation to ensure that the SC resolution was given the effect of law. And,why not? A judge’s life should be an open book,” Verma said.
The present CJI is opposed to making the list of assets of judges public and has even got the SC Registry to move the Delhi High Court to challenge a recent order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) in this regard.
Balakrishnan on Saturday also asserted that the details of assets submitted to him by the judges were not “public documents” and were “based on confidence”,which he could not disclose.
But this argument doesn’t satisfy Verma. He says,”The purpose behind passing the resolution was to make judiciary more transparent. Why do we need statutes or laws to make our assets public? Since as judges we want bureaucrats and politicians to be transparent about their assets and wealth,how can we shy away from following what we preach? Also,more than politicians,it is the judiciary which needs to be more open to public scrutiny as people have much more faith in us than politicians.”
Incidentally,the former CJI was the first to declare his assets immediately after taking over as CJI. Later,he also wrote to chief justices of all high courts asking them to get all judges to declare their assets.
“The judges should have nothing to hide. Under the Indian Constitution,the lower judiciary enjoys as much independence as judges of the SC. Therefore,if a district judge is expected to declare his assets every year,why can’t SC judges do the same?” Verma asks.