Chief Justice of India (CJI) KG Balakrishnan on Saturday argued in favour of pocket money for judges' wives on official foreign trips with their husbands, asking what they would eat there if not given the allowance.
"Somebody who goes abroad has to eat something. Otherwise it's difficult," the chief justice said in an interview to the CNN-IBN news channel, deploring the denial of daily allowances to his wife Nirmala Balakrishnan during their trips to London and Dublin in October 2009.
"It's just a matter of Rs 3,000 or Rs 4,000," he said, adding "But I wanted to ensure that those who occupy this post after me, don't go through similar problems."
"To my knowledge, for several years, the spouses of judges have been continuously paid daily allowances. It is permissible under the rules. In this case also, my registrar came and informed me. I think it was a case of omission," Balakrishnan said.
After the denial of a daily allowance to the the chief justice's wife, the apex court secretary general had written to Union Home Secretary GK Pillai seeking the pocket money for Dublin and London tour Oct 12-18, 2009.
The instance of the country's judiciary locking horns with the government over denial of an allowance to the chief justice's wife came to light following the response of a department under the home ministry to a plea for information on daily allowances for judges' wives during foreign trips with their husbands.
Seeking to clarify his views on the issues of disclosure of judges' assets and application of the Right to Information Act to his office, the chief justice contended that while he very much favoured the disclosure of judges' assets, putting the CJI's office under purview of the Right to Information (RTI) act would compromise judiciary's independence.
"There is lot of misinformation about this... the media thinks I am against RTI. It is not like that," he said.
"As far as disclosure of assets (is concerned), at no point of time I was against it. Sometime some people will say give an unfavourable report against the Chief Justice, some time they will say give a good report. If these are published under the RTI act it will seriously affect the image of the judiciary. Now at present in the RTI act there is no exemption for the judiciary. In UK, the judges office is exempt from RTI," the CJI added.
Balakrishnan also appeared to disapprove the bar's campaign against Karnataka High Court's Chief Justice PD Dinakaran, marring his chances of elevation to the apex court and triggering the launch of the impeachment proceedings for his removal.
Asked if he supported the impeachment motion against Justice Dinakaran, the CJI said: "It has now gone to impeachment proceedings. I don't want to talk anything about the integrity or anything that happens - because ultimately in the impeachment proceedings he has to defend himself."
But when pressed further and asked if he thought that there was a vilification campaign on against Justice Dinakaran, he said: "There was not a single allegation when he was a judge of the Madras High Court; there was not a single allegation when - you will see that - when be became the chief justice of Karnataka High Court in August 2008."
"Till his name was recommended by the Supreme Court collegium for elevation there was not a single allegation. Not a member of the bar raised any objection, nothing. All these allegations have been raised when his name was suggested to be elevated," the CJI added.
Asked further if he felt Justice Dinakaran's past was unblemished, he said: "To my knowledge, it seems to be the case."
Balakrishnan also said that he has no wish to take up the assignments as the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission or the Law Commission after his retirement in May this year.