The government has shelved a bill that would have enabled people to complain against corrupt judges.
The Judges Inquiry (Amendment) Bill, 2008, approved in a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on October 8, was not introduced in the Parliament session that ended on Tuesday. It had been cleared by the cabinet once before too.
The bill would have made it mandatory for the chief justice of India (CJI) to put in place a permanent mechanism to probe allegations of corruption against judges.
The law ministry’s reluctance to proceed in this matter raises eyebrows at a time when the judiciary is facing its severest test on checking corruption within its ranks. For the first time, the Central Bureau of Investigation is probing two cases involving sitting judges of the Supreme Court and high courts.
One case involves a multi-crore Ghaziabad treasury provident-fund scam and the other the delivery of cash at the residence of a judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Officially, the law ministry maintains that the bill could not be introduced due to the lack of time. “It was a short session and urgent pressing issues, such as the anti-terror bills and new investigative agency, took precedence over the regular bills,” said a ministry official who was not willing to be named.
Law Minister HR Bhardwaj said, “Such serious matters cannot be dealt without political consensus. I’ll not speak further.”
The bill to amend the Judges Inquiry Act, 1968, was first introduced in Parliament in December 2006 to give it more teeth. It was withdrawn after the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice recommended sweeping changes, including making it compulsory for judges to declare their wealth annually.
The fresh bill approved by the cabinet in October was supposed to be an addition to the Judges Inquiry Act, 1968.
It proposed to create a national judicial council, comprising the CJI and other senior judges, to scrutinise the complaints of corruption against judges.
This is the third time in the past six years that efforts to make an effective law to check corruption in the judiciary have been abandoned midway by a government.
A similar bill presented by the NDA government in 2003 lapsed because there was no progress until the Lok Sabha was dissolved a year later.