The Supreme Court has locked horns with the government over denial of pocket money to Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan's wife Nirmala Balakrishnan during one of her foreign jaunts with her husband last year.
The chief justice's wife was not given pocket money, contrary to the practice, when she went with her husband to Dublin and London October 12-18, 2009.
"The Secretary General, Supreme Court of India has recently requested to issue revised sanction allowing daily allowance to the spouse of the Chief Justice of India for 6 days for her visit to Dublin and London from October 12 to October 18, 2009, as she has been getting this from Indian missions abroad," disclosed the union government in response to a plea under the Right to Information Act.
The plea was made in December 2009 to the Department of Justice under the union home ministry by Delhi resident Subhash Chandra Agrawal for information on daily allowances to be given to the spouses of the apex court judges and the CJI during their foreign jaunts.
In its reply, the government added that it is considering the matter.
Asked to elaborate on the government disclosure, the Supreme Court's Secretary General M.P. Bhadran was visibly angry, blaming the government for wrongly denying the pocket money to the CJI's wife.
"Only a month or so earlier, when the CJI had gone to Australia with his wife, the missions abroad had granted daily allowances to her. This had been the normal practice. But they did not give it to her durng her visit to Dublin and London," Bhadran said.
"Accordingly, I had written to the government to settle the matter for good - to settle if the spouses of the CJI and other judges are entitled to daily allowances or not," Bhadran said, adding: "If the law does not provide that, they must say so."
The government does provide for the travel expenses to judges' spouse, and that is a huge expense compared to a paltry sum of daily allowance, the secretary general pointed out.
He rued that he had sent the communication to union Home Secretary G K Pillai, who never personally acknowledged even the receipt of his letter.
"Only some junior official sent me a reply that the matter is being examined," said Bhadran.
The government, in its reply on the RTI plea, told Agrawal: "There are no specific rules regarding travel of apex court judges on official visits abroad along with their spouses."
"Taking of his or her spouse by the apex court judge abroad dring his or her official visits is only a matter of convention and is permitted by the government on a case to case basis," said the justice department's reply.
In response to the demand for daily allowance for the CJI's wife during her six-day visit to Dublin and London with her husband, the justice department said: "In regard to the official visits abroad by the CJI and other apex court judges, this department has sanctioned only air passage for the accompanying spouses."
"No other allowance has been sanctioned by the department for the accompanying spouse," the RTI reply added.
It also added that "it has not issued any separate instructions for the foreign tours of judges or their entitlements and the same is governed by the finance ministry's rules."