The Chief Justice of India (CJI), Justice KG Balakrishnan, completed three years in office on January 14. He discussed a wide range of issues concerning the judiciary with Hindustan Times at his residence on Sunday. Excerpts:
You have had the longest tenure as CJI in the past 25 years. How has your tenure been so far?
Personally, it has been okay — by and large. I feel I have been able to do something for this great institution. But it is for the public, lawyers and judges to ultimately pass a judgment on whether I have been successful. Maybe I wanted to do more. (Justice Balakrishnan retires in May).
What in your view is the single-most important reform required in the judiciary?
There should be no delays in courts, and the country needs to increase the number of courts. The common view, of blaming judges for delays, is not correct. It happens during investigation and in prosecution-related matters. Once delays are reduced, the quality of judges and other things can be improved.
The steady increase in cases of corruption in the judiciary threatens to tarnish its image. Is this not a major cause for concern?
There are about 16,000 judges in the subordinate judiciary and around 688 high court judges. It (the judiciary) is a huge institution. The vast number of courts in the country is manned by human beings. If there are some allegations here and there, we cannot say the whole system has broken down, or is useless and corrupt. We are not justified in saying so.
The last three years have seen the Ghaziabad provident fund scam and the Chandigarh cash-at-door scam involving the judges of the higher judiciary. Isn't this alarming?
Such matters are to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I cannot generalise this. Each case has to be dealt with keeping in view the facts. Considering the number of judges in the country, corruption in the judiciary is comparatively very small, and everybody will accept this fact.
You have gone public in your defence of Justice PD Dinakaran. The entire issue has been an embarrassment. Your comments...
I don’t want to comment on Justice Dinakaran, his integrity and all that. It will not be correct on my part since a constitutional process has been initiated in Parliament. The matter is not within my area of jurisdiction anymore.
How do you justify the clean chit by the collegium to Justice Nirmal Yadav when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) wanted to register a case against her?
The matter is between the CBI and the government — please ask them. I can’t share confidential information relating to the judges’ committee report and collegium, etc.
Why does the Supreme Court as an institution want exemption from the provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act?
The Supreme Court as an institution or the high courts — we don’t want exemption from RTI Act because we also take administrative decisions, which should be shared with RTI applicants. There's no question of any exemption.
But you have consistently maintained that your office is not covered under RTI Act.
There is a lot of misinformation about what I have said and not said. Unfortunately, we had to file an appeal against the single-judge order of the Delhi High Court. We have only got a limited problem. Supreme Court judges’ assets are already on the court website. I feel the entire matter is not within our control. It is for Parliament to decide.
What is the limited problem you have referred to?
The problem area is that if a particular kind of information is given to the applicant, it will affect the independence of the judiciary. I’ll give you an example: We have a complicated procedure of appointing judges, unlike the United States, where the senior-most chief justices of high courts are appointed to the Supreme Court. Here, we have to seek opinions in writing from colleagues who have served with judges considered for elevation. Now, if I start divulging such information, it will affect the independence of the judiciary. We want protection on this limited point.
Will the Supreme Court challenge last week’s Delhi High Court judgment that says your office comes under RTI?
We have not yet taken a decision. The high court judgment says all the information available with my office comes under RTI Act. This can lead to a serious problem, but only to this limited extent. I don’t want the Full Court to decide; the collegium can decide. Even I can take a decision. Parliament can also decide. But we have not taken a final decision so far. All options are open. What I am saying is that some clarification on the RTI Act is required. In the UK, the administration of justice is protected from the Freedom of Information Act; we don’t want to go to that extent.
The issue of your wife's daily allowance made you angry. Shouldn't there be clear guidelines on this?
It is a silly issue, which some ministry official got wrong. It is settled and I don’t want to comment further.
What can the Supreme Court do better as the top court of the country?
The basic duty of the Supreme Court is to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens, which it is doing admirably. In my view, the Supreme Court should entertain public interest litigations relating to national issues only and not individual issues. The judges here are the best in the world. Look at the number of cases they decide and their
working hours. This great institution will do well.