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sidmis

Supreme Court Evasive on Asset Declaration by Judges

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sidmis

When Supreme Court judges adopted a resolution a decade ago to make a periodic declaration of their assets to the Chief Justice of India, they took care to state that the details of their holdings would not be made public. But now, the court is being evasive on whether judges have been filing such declarations at all.

 

In his response to an RTI (right to information) application, the court’s central public information officer (CPIO), additional registrar Ashok Kumar, simply said that the information relating to declaration of assets by judges is "not held by or under the control of" its registry and therefore could not be furnished by him.

 

The file notings, in possession of The Times of India , show that this elusive reply was given with the approval of the Chief Justice of India, Justice K G Balakrishnan, who is himself supposed to be the custodian of those declarations.

 

The file related to the RTI query on asset disclosures was in fact placed before Justice Balakrishnan on two occasions.

The first time was when a note prepared by the CPIO on November 27, 2007, was "put up to Hon. CJI for approval" by the head of the SC registry, secretary general V K Jain.

 

The second time was when Jain again "submitted for orders" of the Chief Justice a slightly revised note of the CPIO dated November 30, 2007.

The second note bears Justice Balakrishnan’s signature with the same date. In a typically brief reference to the three points proposed to be mentioned in the RTI response, the Chief Justice wrote: "A, B & C approved."

 

What is crucial is point B, which says: "The applicant may be informed that the information relating to declaration of assets by Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court is not held by or under the control of the Registry, Supreme Court of India, and therefore cannot be furnished by the CPIO, Supreme Court of India, under the Right to Information Act, 2005."

 

In keeping with the CJI-approved note, the CPIO wrote his formal reply under RTI on that very day, November 30, 2007.

 

The documentation behind the CPIO’s reply and the CJI’s approval of the evasion came to light thanks to another RTI application seeking disclosure of the file notings.

 

It has exposed the apex court’s resistance to transparency: Though the CJI can easily say whether judges have been filing declarations of their assets, the CPIO is made to claim under the RTI Act that the information is not in possession of the registry.

 

The matter is now pending before the Central Information Commission, which will have to give a ruling on whether the Supreme Court could be allowed to make a distinction between its registry and the office of the CJI in an obvious bid to confer immunity on the latter from any obligation under the RTI Act.

 

If the justification offered for stonewalling the question on assets is taken to its logical conclusion, the CPIO for the Supreme Court cannot answer questions related to the CJI’s office and Justice Balakrishnan will therefore have to appoint a separate CPIO for himself.

 

The RTI Act does not exempt the CJI from its purview.

=========================

As Reported in Times of India on 14 Apr 2008

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karira

RTI Act 2005 provide for access to information held by a Public Authority.

 

Under the RTI Act, it is not only the information held by the PIO or one particular department which can be accessed...it is the information held by the full public authority (in this case Hon'ble CJI is part of the Supreme Court , a PA). In any case, the PIO of a PA is not supposed to be the repository of all the information in the PA and therefore under Sec 5(4) and 5(5) he can seek assistance of any other officer of the PA to get the information and provide to the applicant.

 

The CPIO/Registry cannot claim that since they are not the custodians or in control of the information sought, they cannot provide it. There is no such ground for rejection under Section 8.

 

The CPIO should seek the information from the Hon'ble CJI under Section 5(4) or 5(5). Alternatively, if the CPIO feels that the information sought is held by another PA or is a matter closely related to another PA, he can very well transfer the application (or its part) under Sec 6(3).

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slchowdhary

Great! Keep it up.

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sidmis

Judges unwilling to Share Wealth Details

 

As Reported by Nagendar Sharma in Hindustan Times April 20, 2008

 

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 lnformation 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 infbrmation, I am willing to be the first to volunteer and see to it that all correspondence regarding appointments and exec- utive 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.

 

BACKLOG OF CASES Pendency 2,52,55,982 Subordinate courts 3,700,223 High Courts 46, 926 Supreme Court (figures as on Sept 30, 2007) Judges vacancy 284 High Courts 273 3, Subordinate Courts a Retired government servants and court staff possessing Law degree to dispose of petty cases. a Amendment of CrPC fixing a time limit for various stages of trial n Guidelines to prevent unwarranted adjournments

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aamaadmi

Dear Members,

Mr Sidharth has posted a very informative matter concerning RTI evasion by the Apex Court. On one hand it erodes the credibility of the Supreme institution, while on the other it may result in evasion/delay by other PAs as well.

For example, Railways have plethora of branches-Traffic, Signal, Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Commercial, Personnel..............managed by different executive heads. The CPIO is any one who is only a nodal officer and does not keep records of various branches, but supplies the requested information.

The CIC should be able to pass suitable orders for mending the attitude, without fear or favor.

aamaadmi

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opsharma

Dont expect any volunteer disclosures or any transparency( RTI applicability) from constitutional authorities YET. But ,it will all be there in open,its just a matter of time.This nation is on move and writings are there on the wall,very clearly written for all to see.

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taurus

It is really very disheartening to read that the CJI hold a view that may tempt many others to follow. What message does it send?

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karira

I am not worried about what he says or thinks or the message he sends.

 

I am worried about the precedent he is setting.

 

The present Hon'ble CJI might be the most honest person on this planet but just in case the future occupants of this constitutional post are not as honest as him, why is he setting a bad precedent for the future.

 

In any case, what is there to hide ?

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opsharma

It sends the message that ,not withstanding IT revolution and high GDP growth,as for as human values are concerned India still is a third world country nurturing illusionary feudal lords.

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jps50

Times of India, Mumbai edition dtd 22-04-08 report:

New Delhi: Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee on Monday disagreed with Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan’s views that the Right To Information Act was not applicable to his office. “I am not questioning the Chief Justice. He is a high constitutional functionary. But since you ask me, I feel we should not keep anything back from people,” he said. In a democracy, he said, people occupy the central position and insisted that once such information is denied, then “there is scope for speculation which may affect the credibility of the institution”. Disputing Balakrishnan’s views that constitutional functionaries are not covered under the RTI, he said, “Everything’s under the constitution or should be under the constitution. The question is whether people are entitled to know.” AGENCIES.

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karira

Property details filed by public servants ARE TO BE DISCLOSED.

 

(I know that capitalising one's words in a post means I am shouting - but that is exactly what I am doing, hoping that the "powers that be" can hear me and read !)

 

Yesterday, there was a discussion on this issue on Timesnow TV Channel. Some of you might have watched it. Participants were Ex Chief Justice of India Justice Patnaik, Mr Harish Salve & Ms Pinky Anand (both eminent lawyers of the Supreme Court) and Mr Sailesh Gandhi (RTI Activist). All of them (including Mr Arnab Goswami the panel moderator) agreed many times that Property Returns of Judges and other Public Servants cannot be disclosed except for those people who are filing them as affidavits, while filing nominations for elections.

 

UNFORTUNATELY, they are all wrong !

 

Please read, spend 50% of your time on RTI, study, think and then talk ! Please do not misinform the viewers and other citizens.

 

http://cic.gov.in/CIC-Orders/Decision_20032008_14.pdf

 

This Bench, however, holds that Annual Property Returns by government employees are in the public domain and hence there seems to be no reason why they should not be freely disclosed. This should also be considered as a step to contain corruption in government offices since such disclosures may reveal instances where property has been acquired which is disproportionate to known sources of income. The Commission, therefore, directs the Respondents to provide copies of property returns asked for by the Appellant to him by 10 April 2008.

 

Further, in another matter, CIC did not allow disclosure of property details under "technical grounds" BUT held that:

 

http://www.cic.gov.in/CIC-Orders/Decision_10072006_14.pdf

 

However, all public authorities are urged that in order to open the property returns of all public servants to public scrutiny, the public authorities may contemplate a new and open system of filing and retention of such returns. The public servants may be advised

in advance that their property returns shall be open and no more confidential. The property return forms may be so designed as to give only such transactions and assets

related details, which may not violate civil servants’ right to privacy. These steps may bring the curtain down on the rather vexed question of how private is the information

given in “property returns” or that it is a public information, which is not private at all.

 

The above was way back on 10th July 2006 !

 

But we Indians have a disease and it is called " diarrhea of words but constipation of action".

 

I wish eminent people who say they know all about RTI should at least spend time studying it before talking.

 

 

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colnrkurup

In addition to all the existing provisions making public servnts submition of their property return obligatory, I draw the attention to Section 22, of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act 1999. This is made iwith common principles and most of the state Lok Ayukta Acts are bound to have this provision.

 

22. Public servants to submit prperty statement:

 

(1) Every public servant, other than a Government servant or a last grde employee in the service and pay of any establishment coming under items(A) to (F)of sub-Section(vii) of clause (o) of Section 2 shall within six months after the commencement of this Act, and thereafter before the 30th day of June once in two years submit to the competent authority in the prescribed form, a satatement of his assets and liabilities and those of the members of his family.

 

(2) If no such statement is receivd by the competent authority from any such public serant, within the time specified in sub-section (1), the competent authority shall make a report to that effect to the Lok Ayukta or the Upa-Lok Ayukta , as the case may be, and send a copy of the report to the public servant concerned. If within two months of such report, the public servant concerned does not submit such statement, the Lok-Ayukta or the Upa-Lok Ayukta as the case may be, shall publish, or cause to be published the name of such public servant in three newspapers having wide circulation in the State.

 

Are you not surprised with the statements of Hon'ble CJI despite existance of above stringent provision. Has anyone of us seen the defaulters names published the newspaper ?

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taurus

There is a very interesting article on this issue with global comparisons in the link siteresources.worldbank.org/INTLAWJUSTINST/Resources/IncomeAssetDisclosure.pdf -

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sidmis

SC judges declare assets but details confidential, clarifies CJI

-----------------------------------------------------------

As Reported in Times of India on 24 Apr 2008

-----------------------------------------------------------

NEW DELHI: Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan on Wednesday tried to defend the judiciary from criticism that judges were reluctant to declare their assets and claimed that contrary to perception, the judges of Supreme Court regularly declared their assets to him which was kept confidential.

 

Speaking at the 21st annual Kailash Nath Katju memorial lecture, the CJI took the opportunity to defend the lack of transparency surrounding declaration of assets and maintained that even though judges of SC and HC were not bound by rules to declare their assets it was being done voluntarily.

 

"Judges of higher judiciary have declared their assets to me and I am satisfied. It is given in a sealed cover. Judges are moral persons. Only trial court judges are bound by rules to declare assets," the CJI added.

The CJI's clarification came in response to an issue raised in his speech by eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani.

 

Jethmalani had lamented the opacity which shrouds judges appointment and declaration of assets and called for greater transparency in judicial functioning.

 

SC judges declare assets but details confidential, clarifies CJI -India-The Times of India

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colnrkurup

There is no question of RELUCTANCE. Every cityzen is under the Constitution and he has no authority to be reluctant not to abide by it. So long as the Conempt of Court Acts is in vogue the judiciary is at liberty to proclaim whatever they wish. One day an enactment in line of the RTI Act will emerge granting its cityzen REAL EQUITY OF JUSTICE - that every cityzen is equal before the law. Let us pray for that day.

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karira

As reported by Nagender Sharma in hindustantimes.com on 21 April 2008:

Judges unwilling to share wealth details- Hindustan Times

 

Judges unwilling to share wealth details

 

 

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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slchowdhary

I join Col N R Kurup in praying for that day.

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colnrkurup

Whether the CIC and SICs are bothering about common man or not, this is a question of principle. There is no need of the CIC to take note of the public proclamation of the Hon'ble CJI. If he has an iota of principles and guts he should proceed with the applications seeking information under RTI Act and award punishment as a test case where the information is not provided exactly in commensurate with the provisions of the RTI Act.

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taurus

The issue is not as simple as it looks at first glance. It involves principles of law and jurisprudence. These principles may be controversial. World over such a situation exists. Hence it is better to adopt restraint in the criticism against the highest judiciary on this issue.

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karira

As reported by Statesman News Service in thestatesman.net on 25 April 2008:

The Statesman

 

Judges open to declaring assets: CJI

 

NEW DELHI, April 24: When transparency is becoming the buzzword in the corridors of bureaucracy, the higher judiciary is all set to follow suit as well. Taking a U-turn from his earlier view that judges ought not to declare their assets, Chief Justice of India, Mr K G Balakrishnan, said the higher judiciary was open to the idea.

 

Many Supreme Court judges have come out ‘voluntarily’ with their assets, the CJI told the audience gathered for this year’s Dr K N Katju Memorial Lecture here on Wednesday evening. “Under rules, civil judges are declaring their assets and judges of higher judiciary - High Courts and the Supreme Court are also doing so... details are with me,” he said.

 

The lecture “Constitutional Underpinnings of a Concordial Society” was organised in memory of the renowned freedom fighter Kailash Nath Katju who also served as minister and governor.

 

On judicial activism, Justice Balakrishnan lamented that “reforming the society may not be our job but judges are not left with much choice but to intervene and pass orders” in public interest, especially when other organs fail to perform their statutory duties.

 

To drive his point home, he referred to Article 21-A (Right to free and compulsory education) and the mid-day meal scheme. While Article 21-A, he said, was yet to be implemented in proper letter and spirit even “57 years after Independence”, the mid-day meal scheme could become a successful reality only after SC intervention. The scheme in most states was leading to high rates of dropouts at schools until the Supreme Court ordered that all children be served cooked meals. Justice Venkatachaliah also spoke on the occasion. Prominent persons who attended the lecture included several former CJIs, former Law Ministers Shanti Bhushan and Ram Jethmalani, Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal and several judges and lawyers.

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jps50

After all a Happy ending. This shows how powerful is RTI and its roots are getting stronger, despite some aberrations. If only CIC/SCICs become more strict against defaulting PIOs and FAAs, the things would be much much better.

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opsharma

Bar contradicts CJI on judge assets RTI

7 May, 2008, 0317 hrs IST, TNN

NEW DELHI: The Bar ! Association of India on Tuesday said that judges should make an annual declaration of assets, as done in the US and several other democracies, and people should be given access to this information.

 

“The Bar Association of India is emphatically of the view that judges do declare their assets on an annual basis and that the public should have access to this information,” said association in its policy statement.

 

The statement is in sharp contrast to the stand taken by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan who had said that the office of the Chief Justice of India should be out of the purview of RTI. “The Chief Justice is not a public servant. He is a constitutional authority. RTI does not cover constitutional authorities,” the CJI had said.

 

The bar, on the other hand said, “there are salutary and statutory provisions in force in the US and other democracies that compel and oblige judges to disclose assets. There seems no reason why Indian judges, who have earned high universal respect and prestige over the years, should not follow a similar practice and avoid unnecessary criticism and controversy.”

 

The Bar Association of India has always been committed to preserve and enhance the high reputation of judiciary but believes that radical rethinking is required to accommodate new expectations from the public regarding transparency and accountability, the body of legal luminaries said in its policy statement.

 

The association said that the people of India expect that those who render justice should be accountable to the public just as much as others holding constitutional offices. It has become all the more necessary to dispel doubts about the integrity of the judiciary in the context of the recent statement made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that there is corruption in judiciary.

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while inaugurating the conference of chief ministers and chief justices, had said: “Apart from pendency and delayed justice, corruption is another challenge we face both in government and judiciary.” The association, however, take a cudgel for a substantial increase in the salaries of the judges.

 

“The association firmly believes that there is an urgent need to substantially increase the salaries of judges. The pension payable on retirement should be equal to the last drawn pay,” it said.

 

The association said that the age of retirement for all judges of the high courts should be raised to 65 years to bring them on a par with the supperannuation age of the apex court judges.

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vishnu_madhav

Hi All,

I have seen the judgment linked here (http://www.rtiindia.info/downloads/p13_sectionid/2/p13_fileid/95) where the Delhi High Court (single judge bench) ruled against the claim of the CPIO of the Supreme Court that information held by CJI cannot be considered to be held by the Registry. But this was appealed to a bench having more judges, which upheld the single judge bench's decision. Where can I get that decision from? If somebody can provide me the link, it would be very useful.

 

Thanks.

Madhav.

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sidmis

> But this was appealed to a bench having more judges, which upheld the single judge bench's decision. Where can I get that decision from?

 

Are you sure the bench has delivered a judgment on this ? :confused:

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karira

Madhav,

 

I thought that the SC did not approach the division bench BUT directly approached the SC.

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