What could have been the first step to allow people to speak against corruption in the judiciary has been put in cold freeze. A bill proposing to simplify procedure for filing complaints of corruption and misconduct against judges is gathering dust.
Sixteen months after it was introduced, the Judges Inquiry Bill still awaits a discussion in the Parliament. This is particularly surprising at time when the government says it is helpless and has no powers to probe allegations against the judges.
“The government has no constitutional competence to look into the allegations levelled against the Supreme Court and High Court judges”, the department of justice said in a reply to a recent RTI query on whether retired judges enjoyed immunity from legal prosecution, in the same way as serving judges did.
Introduced in Parliament in December 2006 the bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which gave its recommendations in August 2007. However, no progress has been made since and there are no indications of any forward movement in the near future either.
Law Minister HR Bhardwaj, recently said, “the committee’s recommendations were being studied as it was a complex matter”, but he refused to commit by when the ministry would finalise its response on the committee findings.
“We had recommended that an empowered committee, which includes judges, representatives of the government, opposition and members of the Bar Council be formed to look into complaints against judges,” said E. M. Sudarsana Natchiappan, chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice. “This could be the first step to allow the people to speak against corruption in the judiciary. We have submitted our recommendations and the ball is now in the ministry’s court to take the next step of placing them before the cabinet. But we have not heard anything on when would the bill be taken up”, said Natchiappan.
While the fate of Judges Inquiry Bill hangs in balance, the response of both the government and the courts on the issue of transparency in judiciary’s functioning is baffling.
While Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan recently said his office was not covered under the Right to Information Act, and Supreme Court documents show that details of judges wealth were not available, the government says it cannot do anything on the issue either.
The Department of Justice recently washed its hands off a RTI query seeking to know what had the government done on the allegations of corruption and misconduct against some judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, including former CJI Y. K. Sabharwal.
In response to another RTI query by social activist Anil Sood, seeking details of appointments and educational qualifications, including percentage of marks obtained in L.L.B. examination by High Court judges in the country. The Department of Justice said: “No statistics are maintained by the union government as the proposals for judges appointments are to be initiated by the respective High Courts”.
The Department’s response contradicts its own charter of duties, which says it deals with “appointments, resignation and removal of the Supreme Court and High Court judges. Salaries, leave, pension and travelling allowances details are also dealt with by the department”.
The Supreme Court has already made it clear that no details pertaining to judges were available with its registry. Both the government and the court have left the information seekers and RTI activists high and dry.