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Judges unwilling to share wealth details

The SC wanted changes in the RTI Act to allow appeals seeking judiciary-related information to be decided by court officials only. Nagendar Sharma reports.
Hindustan Times | By Nagendar Sharma, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 21, 2008 02:05 AM IST

The judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are not willing to divulge details of their wealth and disciplinary action taken against them on corruption and misconduct charges.

Documents available with HT have revealed that the Supreme Court wanted changes in the Right to Information Act (RTI) to allow appeals seeking judiciary-related information to be decided by court officials only, and not by the Central Information Commission.

Making public his views on the issue, the Chief Justice of India, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan had made it clear on Saturday that the RTI Act was not applicable to his office. “Constitutional functionaries are not covered under the RTI,” he said.

However, top jurists, including former Chief Justices of India, J.S. Verma and V.N. Khare have expressed dismay and shock over the reluctance of the Supreme Court and High Courts to provide information sought by the people under RTI.

“If there is reluctance to provide information, I am willing to be the first to volunteer and see to it that all correspondence regarding appointments and executive actions during my tenure as Chief Justice should be made public,” Justice Verma said.

Justice Khare said the judiciary could not escape accountability measures, which it wanted others to follow.
“Everybody holding a constitutional office in this country is accountable, and so are the judges. It is important for them to come clean and be seen as above suspicion,” he said.

In a letter to the CIC, the Supreme Court had in 2006 said, “No appeal or any other proceedings shall lie against the order of the Chief Justice of India or his nominee. Any appeal arising out of the order passed by an officer of the Supreme Court inferior in rank to Registrar General of the court, shall be before the Registrar General.”

The CIC, however, did not accept the controversial recommendation and maintained that the right to decide the final appeal lies with the commission.

The Supreme Court refused to provide information on the number of judges against whom action was taken on complaints of corruption and misconduct.

“There was no such information available with the court as neither the Supreme Court nor the Chief Justice of India is the appointing or disciplinary authority in respect of superior courts, including High Court judges,” the Supreme Court said in its reply to a RTI query that sought to know the number of judges against whom corruption allegations were probed.

The reply contradicts Supreme Court’s own resolution adopted in 1999, in a meeting attended by 19 judges, that put in place an in-house procedure for taking “suitable remedial action against judges not following accountability standards”.

Similarly, in response to a question, which wanted to know if judges were submitting details of their assets to respective Chief Justices, the Supreme Court replied, “The information relating to declaration of assets by hon’ble judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts is not held by or under the control of registry of the court and therefore, cannot be furnished under the RTI Act.”

The court reply again runs contrary to its own resolution of 1997 on declaration of assets, which was decided in a full meeting attended by 22 judges.

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