The judiciary could have asked for no better verdict than the one from the Chief Justice of India (CJI) K.G. Balakrishnan, when he termed our judges as among the best in the world. With such high expectations of it, the judiciary, like Caesar’s wife, must be beyond reproach. And we are certain that every effort is being made in this direction. Which is why it should steer clear of any allegations of opacity in the manner in which it refuses to subject itself to the kind of scrutiny that the other pillars of democracy have to. The persistent refusal to come under the scanner of the Right to Information (RTI) Act comes to mind in this context.
The Delhi High Court has ruled that the CJI comes under the RTI’s ambit and it is only after the ruling that the highest judicial functionary reluctantly stated that he has no objections. Of course, the HC ruling does not automatically bring the CJI under the RTI since the Attorney General feels that only the Supreme Court should decide on this. But since those who are part of that august body will be affected by the ruling, naysayers may say that this might not be the right forum to decide on the issue. Greater transparency can only complement the judiciary’s independence and effectiveness. But, on the other hand, a counter argument often used is that the RTI could be misused by interested parties against individual judges. This does not really hold any water since the RTI has built-in safeguards against both motivated and frivolous inquiries.
The issue of appointments has long been somewhat controversial in the judiciary. Perhaps, many quail at the thought that bringing this into public scrutiny could open up a can of worms. But, once again, given the enormous respect that the judiciary commands, it would benefit people to know the criteria by which their judges are selected, not to mention the fact that it is these functionaries who preside over life and death situations for citizens. The issue of corruption in the judiciary has surfaced every now and again. If this is kept under a lid, it will only erode the credibility of the institution. At a time when the judiciary is seen as the last hope in an otherwise compromised system, it cannot afford even the slightest doubt to be cast on its integrity. The Indian judicial system is a role model for many developing countries. So it becomes all the more crucial that it sets the benchmark in probity, transparency and efficiency. Which is what the CJI must have had in mind when he showered such fulsome praise on the system over which he presides.