In what is being termed as the first nail in the RTI (Right To Information) coffin, the government is set to bring a bill in Rajya Sabha on Monday enabling judges to keep details of their wealth out of the public realm.
Titled “The Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Act, 2009”, the bill will guarantee that the assets of Supreme Court and high court judges are kept confidential, except when the chief justice of India thinks otherwise.
If this bill goes through, high court and Supreme Court judges will be the only people exempted from public scrutiny of their assets, a privilege not extended even to the President and the Prime Minister. Barring judges’ assets, only strategic and security issues are outside the purview of the RTI Act.
Some more are equal
- October 2005: The Right to Information Act (RTI) enacted
- September 2006: Supreme Court asks CIC to keep courts out of RTI’s purview. CIC refuses
- November 2007: In response to an RTI application, Supreme Court refuses to reveal if judges declared their assets or not
- January 6, 2009: CIC rules that judges will have to reveal assets
- January 16: SC challenges CIC ruling in Delhi High Court
- June 26: Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily announces a new bill to make judges assets declaration compulsory.
- July 15: Government gets the consent of the judiciary on the proposed law, but only after it promises to keep the judges wealth details secret.
“It is strange that the judiciary is being given this sort of exception," said Shailesh Gandhi, Central Information Commissioner, the first RTI activist appointed to the central information watchdog body.
RTI activist and Magsaysay award winner, Arvind Kejriwal, termed the proposed law as the first nail in the RTI coffin.
“What is the purpose of keeping the assets’ records in the files?” he asked.
Opposition to the bill has started picking up. Jurists, including Fali S Nariman and former law minister Shanti Bhushan, have urged MPs to oppose the bill.
The new bill, a copy of which is in possession of HT, states in clause 6 that “no judge shall be subjected to any inquiry” on the basis of their declaration.
The bill proposes to make it mandatory for all high court and Supreme Court judges declare their assets — to their respective chief justices — and of their spouses and dependent children by July 31 every year.