In a major embarrassment for the government on Monday, a combined opposition supported by some Congress MPs in Rajya Sabha forced it to defer the introduction of a controversial bill which sought to keep the judges wealth details secret.
A cornered Law Minister M Veerappa Moily had to beat a hasty retreat and announce “deferring the introduction” of the bill, after the Opposition insisted on voting in the House on the issue.
As reported by HT on Monday, the proposed Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill, seeks to keep judiciary out of purview of Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Led by leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley and senior CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, MPs cutting across party lines strongly opposed clause six of the bill, which provides “protection to judges” when they declare their assets.
“Candidates contesting elections either for Parliament or Assembly were required to file a declaration on their antecedents, criminal cases, education and assets and liabilities, according to a law laid down by Supreme Court,” Jaitley said.
“A different interpretation will now have to be given that when it comes to assets of judges, the same cannot be made public.”
Yechury said the Opposition was prepared to allow the government to introduce the bill, provided Moily agreed to delete clause six which states: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, the declaration made by a judge shall not be made public or disclosed...”
Congress MPs, Jayanti Natarajan and Rajeev Shukla also wanted the clause to be withdrawn.
Former law minister Ram Jethmalani said the bill “was a conspiracy in corruption and it appeared the executive was doling out a favour to the judiciary”.
Moily tried to explain, saying the bill “was first step in the direction of judicial reforms...”.
In a bid to resolve the tricky situation, deputy chairman, K. Rahman Khan relied on a 1956 ruling in the House, which stated that in case if an introduction of a bill was opposed, it was for the House to decide whether the bill was against the provisions of the Constitution.
Yechury insisted for a vote on the issue. Realising it did not have the numbers on its side, since the UPA has only 79 members in the effective House strength of 230, and many treasury benches empty, Moily deferred the bill.