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CJI defensive in asset battle

delhi Updated: Aug 25, 2009 00:15 IST
Nagendar Sharma

On a day of high drama, which saw a third judge come out in support of declaration of assets within four days, Chief Justice of India (CJI) K.G. Balakrishnan adopted a conciliatory tone, saying efforts were on to reach a consensus on the issue.

The chain reaction — triggered by Karnataka High Court Judge D.V. Shylendra Kumar’s newspaper article on Friday advocating declaration of assets by judges — reached Chennai on Monday, with a Madras High Court judge offering to make his wealth details public.

Justice K. Chandru’s offer in Chennai on Monday came two days after Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge K. Kannan put his family’s asset details in public domain.

In Delhi, former CJI J.S. Verma, who in 1997 was the first judge to push for declaration of assets mandatory, disapproved of Justice Balakrishnan’s stand on the issue.

“I only wish that the present CJI cuts short this unsavoury debate and makes a declaration himself. All this unhealthy talk going against the judiciary which is not correct will stop,” Justice Verma told CNN-IBN.

Justice Verma said he was upset with the arguments being forwarded for not declaring assets.

“Most of the judges have no hesitation in declaring their assets in public. Many judges of the Supreme Court and high courts have talked to me personally,” he said.

CJI Balakrishnan, who had criticised Justice Kumar on Sunday for making his views public by calling him publicity crazy, adopted a conciliatory approach on Monday.

He said the remarks of a single judge cannot “cause embarrassment to the judiciary”.

“I said every high court judge has got freedom to declare assets, we have no problem. We don’t give any advice to HC judges on this matter. But as regards judges, I made some general comments and I think I got that right,” the CJI said.

He said the SC judges were yet to reach a consensus on the issue of assets declaration.

The issue also resonated in the court on Monday, with a spat between the CJI and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who in January wrote to 600 judges seeking voluntary disclosure of their wealth.

During a hearing, the CJI admonished Bhushan, saying: “You are a senior counsel. And you are required to behave properly. Last time also you misbehaved...”

The CJI’s was uspet over Bhushan’s statement that “judges are not supreme and they are also accountable to the country’s public.”