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Judges’ wealth: Info body seeks opinions

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colnrkurup

" In an interim order, Justice S Ravinder Bhat said the execution of the CIC order was stayed till the final disposal of the petition filed by the SC Registry. The petition said the CIC ruling was bad in law and against the provisions of the RTI Act as the judges were holding constitutional posts."

 

Wonderful ! The judges are holding constitutional posts; but claim that they are not bound to abide by the constitution ! If they are not bound by the constitution how are they holding the constitutional posts ? Wonderful ! They want to hold the posts in accordance with the constitution and do not want to abide by it. What do they have to say about following provisions of the constitution ?

 

124. Establishment and constitution of Supreme Court.- (1) There shall be a Supreme Court of India consisting of a Chief Justice of India and, until Parliament by law prescribes a larger number, of not more than seven 88 other Judges.(2) Every Judge of the Supreme Court shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal after consultation with such of the Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Courts in the States as the President may deem necessary for the purpose and shall hold office until he attains the age of sixty-five years:

51A. Fundamental Duties.-It shall be the duty of every citizens of

India-(a) to abide by the Constitution etc.,

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karira

As reported by Dhananjay Mahapatra and Abhinav Garg of TNN in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 21 January 2009:

I am biased, can't be friend of court: Fali Nariman-India-The Times of India

 

I am biased, can't be friend of court: Fali Nariman

 

NEW DELHI: In a major embarrassment for the judiciary, reputed constitutional expert Fali S Nariman on Tuesday declined Delhi High Court's

request seeking his assistance as amicus curiae in the case filed by the Supreme Court challenging a directive that can lead to apex court judges having to publicly declare their assets.

 

Nariman sent a two-sentence letter to the HC declining to assist it in the contentious matter. He also attached a document expressing his frank views opposing the stand taken by the Chief Justice of India and the SC.

 

In the annexure, which is a signed letter to the editor of a daily, the noted jurist says, "Judges of the highest court who have powers to life and death over us citizens, judges who can (and do) send people to jail for contempt of its order must - I repeat must - show that they too are amenable to good practice."

 

The letter adds, "That is how they earn the respect of us commoners. We in India learn by example - never by precept. For judges of the highest court to litigate as to whether or not they should disclose their assets is as bad as judges going to the court on whether it was lawful for income tax to be deducted from the salaries they get! We have good judges, but we need more judicial wisdom."

 

The HC had on Monday stayed the Central Information Commission's directive on judge's assets after an appeal filed by the Supreme Court and requested Nariman to be the amicus curiae (literally, friend of the court).

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MOHANDAS

Disclosure of Assets by the Hon’ble Justices under the RTI Act 2005.

 

Apropos the different articles on the above mentioned subject by our expert members. The subject matter is getting the attention of Judiciary and the Hon’ble CIC’s Office. By a recent order passed by the Hon’ble Commission, had asked the Hon’ble S.C to provide the information within 10 days. The directive came on an RTI application filed by Shri S.C Aggarwal, a resident of New Delhi. It has been gathered that the Solicitor General submitted that there was nothing under the Constitution or under any other law that requires Supreme Court Judges/Judges to declare their assets to the CJI/other authorities.

 

The Hon’ble Commission had ruled that the Apex Court is not exempt from the RTI Act and had made it clear that the CJI, too is covered under the Act. Since the Hon’ble Judges are being paid their salary out of the Tax collected from the general public, the Public has every right to derive the information of assets held by the Hon’ble Judges and assess whether the same have been in accordance with the known source of income or not. We are reading in the newspapers that black sheeps are there in the Judiciary too. The RTI Act 2005 has been enacted in order to inculcate a sense of governance and transparency amongst Public Authorities. It is a matter of deep regret that the Hon’ble Judges instead of declaring their particulars of assets indulging in difference of opinion with the Hon’ble Office of CIC, thus propagating a bad culture and create precedence to be followed. Rather the Hon’ble Judges should create a morale to other general public as we are relying upon the judiciary. To sum up we pray please do not dilute the different provisions of RTI Act 2005, which is a powerful to tool to arrest the tendency of corrupt practices, to certain extent. On the contrary why not the Govt. stipulate a mandatory clause to declare the asset particulars of an incumbent before he/she being considered for the post of a Hon’ble Judge ?

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karira

As reported by Seema Chisti in indianexpress.com on 22 January 2009:

Judge assets: CIC wonders why SC opposing ‘innocuous’ order

 

Judge assets: CIC wonders why SC opposing ‘innocuous’ order

 

New Delhi: Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has said that while the Supreme Court was “well within its right” to contest an order under the RTI Act asking whether its judges had revealed their assets to the Chief Justice, “the order was something quite innocuous”.

 

“The only thing we wanted to ensure was if the courts, like all public bodies, are making information about the judges available, and are essentially under the ambit of the RTI,” Habibullah told The Indian Express.

 

On January 6, the Central Information Commission had asked the Supreme Court to disclose, under the RTI Act, if judges of SC and HCs declared their assets. The apex court had appealed against the order to the Delhi HC, and the latter stayed it two days ago. The apex court’s stand is that information relating to declaration of assets by the SC judges to the CJI is not a mandatory exercise under the law. However, a full court resolution of SC on May 7, 1997, required every judge to declare to the CJI assets including properties or any other investment in the name of their spouse and any person dependent on them. Challenging the CIC order, the SC said the order is excessive and without jurisdiction and the appeal made a distinction between the apex court as an institution and the office of the CJI. “Neither is the office of the CJI a public authority nor does the information relating to judges’ assets come in the public domain,” the Supreme Court said.

 

The next hearing in the Delhi HC is on February 12. It is unclear who will represent the CIC, but it is looking to make its point that all public bodies, “unless excluded by Section 8”, are subject to the RTI, and cannot claim immunity.

 

Meanwhile, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has said the judges of the higher judiciary should also be subjected to accountability on issues like the declaration of assets and on PILs. Referring to the controversy over declaration of assets by SC judges and the right of public to access this information, he said while even MPs were not required to make their assets public under law, “when a law (RTI Act) was made, I respect the law”. He said he had allowed access to information about MPs’ assets to anyone who sought it.

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karira

As reported by Seema Chisti in indianexpress.com on 22 January 2009:

Judge assets: CIC wonders why SC opposing ‘innocuous’ order

 

Judge assets: CIC wonders why SC opposing ‘innocuous’ order

 

New Delhi: Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has said that while the Supreme Court was “well within its right” to contest an order under the RTI Act asking whether its judges had revealed their assets to the Chief Justice, “the order was something quite innocuous”.

 

“The only thing we wanted to ensure was if the courts, like all public bodies, are making information about the judges available, and are essentially under the ambit of the RTI,” Habibullah told The Indian Express.

 

On January 6, the Central Information Commission had asked the Supreme Court to disclose, under the RTI Act, if judges of SC and HCs declared their assets. The apex court had appealed against the order to the Delhi HC, and the latter stayed it two days ago. The apex court’s stand is that information relating to declaration of assets by the SC judges to the CJI is not a mandatory exercise under the law. However, a full court resolution of SC on May 7, 1997, required every judge to declare to the CJI assets including properties or any other investment in the name of their spouse and any person dependent on them. Challenging the CIC order, the SC said the order is excessive and without jurisdiction and the appeal made a distinction between the apex court as an institution and the office of the CJI. “Neither is the office of the CJI a public authority nor does the information relating to judges’ assets come in the public domain,” the Supreme Court said.

 

The next hearing in the Delhi HC is on February 12. It is unclear who will represent the CIC, but it is looking to make its point that all public bodies, “unless excluded by Section 8”, are subject to the RTI, and cannot claim immunity.

 

Meanwhile, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has said the judges of the higher judiciary should also be subjected to accountability on issues like the declaration of assets and on PILs. Referring to the controversy over declaration of assets by SC judges and the right of public to access this information, he said while even MPs were not required to make their assets public under law, “when a law (RTI Act) was made, I respect the law”. He said he had allowed access to information about MPs’ assets to anyone who sought it.

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karira

As reported in thestatesman.net on 22 January 2009:

The Statesman

 

Judges should be accountable on PILs, feels Somnath

 

New Delhi, Jan 21: Lok Sabha Speaker Mr Somnath Chatterjee, who has often expressed strong views on the judiciary, feels the judges of the higher judiciary should also be subjected to accountability on issues like the declaration of assets and on public interest litigation (PIL) cases.

 

Calling the Indian judiciary “unique” in that judges appoint judges themselves, he also feels that there should be some amount of “consultation” on the appointment of judges probably through a judicial commission.

 

“There is no no law which says that you have to be honest. Honesty is not imposed by law. Dishonesty is treated as a crime,” Mr Chatterjee told a select group of journalists emphasising his point that judges were also accountable in a democracy.

 

Referring to the current controversy over declaration of assets by Supreme Court judges and the right of public to access this information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, he said even the MPs were not required to make their assets public under law.

 

“But when a law (RTI Act) was made, I respect the law,” he said adding he had allowed access to information about MPs assets to anyone who sought it.

The Speaker said if people's representatives were going to hide then questions would be raised. “Now now the urge to see MPs assets has gone down because it is allowed,” he said.

 

He also pointed to noted jurist Fali S Nariman telling the Delhi High Court, which has stayed a Central Information Commission order on Supreme Court judges in the assets case, that he cannot be an amicus curiae in the case termed it an “unfortunate situation”. “I feel very bad, strongly about it,” Mr Chatterjee said about the controversy and said it was good in theory hat judges should also declare their assets.

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karira

As reported in thestatesman.net on 22 January 2009:

The Statesman

 

Judges should be accountable on PILs, feels Somnath

 

New Delhi, Jan 21: Lok Sabha Speaker Mr Somnath Chatterjee, who has often expressed strong views on the judiciary, feels the judges of the higher judiciary should also be subjected to accountability on issues like the declaration of assets and on public interest litigation (PIL) cases.

 

Calling the Indian judiciary “unique” in that judges appoint judges themselves, he also feels that there should be some amount of “consultation” on the appointment of judges probably through a judicial commission.

 

“There is no no law which says that you have to be honest. Honesty is not imposed by law. Dishonesty is treated as a crime,” Mr Chatterjee told a select group of journalists emphasising his point that judges were also accountable in a democracy.

 

Referring to the current controversy over declaration of assets by Supreme Court judges and the right of public to access this information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, he said even the MPs were not required to make their assets public under law.

 

“But when a law (RTI Act) was made, I respect the law,” he said adding he had allowed access to information about MPs assets to anyone who sought it.

The Speaker said if people's representatives were going to hide then questions would be raised. “Now now the urge to see MPs assets has gone down because it is allowed,” he said.

 

He also pointed to noted jurist Fali S Nariman telling the Delhi High Court, which has stayed a Central Information Commission order on Supreme Court judges in the assets case, that he cannot be an amicus curiae in the case termed it an “unfortunate situation”. “I feel very bad, strongly about it,” Mr Chatterjee said about the controversy and said it was good in theory hat judges should also declare their assets.

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colnrkurup

Now that the jurist Fali S Nariman said that he cannot be amicus curiae to the High Court, why can't the CIC request him to be his amicus curiae ?

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colnrkurup

Now that the jurist Fali S Nariman said that he cannot be amicus curiae to the High Court, why can't the CIC request him to be his amicus curiae ?

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sandeepbaheti

To help me properly understand the matter, could someone briefly explain what is meant by amicus curiae and what exactly is his role in the process?

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sandeepbaheti

To help me properly understand the matter, could someone briefly explain what is meant by amicus curiae and what exactly is his role in the process?

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karira

"amicus curae" literally means "friend of the court" and he assists the court.

He should not be a direct party to the matter and will guide the court in regard to point of law.

 

Amicus curiae - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Amicus curae legal definition of Amicus curae. Amicus curae synonyms by the Free Online Law Dictionary.

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karira

"amicus curae" literally means "friend of the court" and he assists the court.

He should not be a direct party to the matter and will guide the court in regard to point of law.

 

Amicus curiae - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Amicus curae legal definition of Amicus curae. Amicus curae synonyms by the Free Online Law Dictionary.

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karira

As reported in ndtv.com on 22 January 2009:

NDTV.com: Judges' assets: Time for disclosure?

 

Judges' assets: Time for disclosure?

 

Will the Supreme Court judges agree to make their assets public? Following their resistance to do so the Chief Justice of India, KG Balakrishnan, may call a meeting with other 23 SC judges next week to decide on the issue.

 

Sources tell NDTV that the Chief Justice wants to take a consensus decision.

 

So far, the SC judges declare their assets only in front of the Chief Justice, and not public.

 

But now, they are under pressure to do so after Central Information Commission asked the apex court to disclose their assets under the RTI Act.

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karira

As reported in ndtv.com on 22 January 2009:

NDTV.com: Judges' assets: Time for disclosure?

 

Judges' assets: Time for disclosure?

 

Will the Supreme Court judges agree to make their assets public? Following their resistance to do so the Chief Justice of India, KG Balakrishnan, may call a meeting with other 23 SC judges next week to decide on the issue.

 

Sources tell NDTV that the Chief Justice wants to take a consensus decision.

 

So far, the SC judges declare their assets only in front of the Chief Justice, and not public.

 

But now, they are under pressure to do so after Central Information Commission asked the apex court to disclose their assets under the RTI Act.

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karira

As reported in indianexpress.com on 23 January 2009:

Declaring assets: As criticism grows, SC judges may meet soon

 

Declaring assets: As criticism grows, SC judges may meet soon

 

New Delhi: The Supreme Court may have challenged the Central Information Commission’s order that courts, like all public bodies, should make information about the judges (read their assets) available under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, but there is learnt to be a difference of opinion in the court.

 

Insiders said that some judges are willing to furnish details of their assets. And to take a “fresh look” at the matter pending before the Delhi High Court — which stayed the CIC order — it is learnt that a meeting of all SC judges might be called soon. The rising public opinion against the judiciary for challenging the CIC order is seen as one reason behind a possible rethink. The case comes up for hearing on February 12.

 

The CIC asked for the apex court to disclose if information about assets of Supreme Court and High Court Judges was being declared at all by the judges. The SC challenged the order in the Delhi HC arguing that information relating to declaration of assets by SC judges to the CJI is not mandatory under the law. However, a 1997 full court resolution of SC required every judge to declare to the CJI their assets, including those of their spouse, dependents.

 

After eminent jurist Fali Nariman, who was asked by the court to be the amicus (friend of the court) in the matter, politely refused saying his views were contrary to those of the apex court, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, too, criticised the judiciary’s stand on the issue.

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karira

As reported in indianexpress.com on 23 January 2009:

Declaring assets: As criticism grows, SC judges may meet soon

 

Declaring assets: As criticism grows, SC judges may meet soon

 

New Delhi: The Supreme Court may have challenged the Central Information Commission’s order that courts, like all public bodies, should make information about the judges (read their assets) available under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, but there is learnt to be a difference of opinion in the court.

 

Insiders said that some judges are willing to furnish details of their assets. And to take a “fresh look” at the matter pending before the Delhi High Court — which stayed the CIC order — it is learnt that a meeting of all SC judges might be called soon. The rising public opinion against the judiciary for challenging the CIC order is seen as one reason behind a possible rethink. The case comes up for hearing on February 12.

 

The CIC asked for the apex court to disclose if information about assets of Supreme Court and High Court Judges was being declared at all by the judges. The SC challenged the order in the Delhi HC arguing that information relating to declaration of assets by SC judges to the CJI is not mandatory under the law. However, a 1997 full court resolution of SC required every judge to declare to the CJI their assets, including those of their spouse, dependents.

 

After eminent jurist Fali Nariman, who was asked by the court to be the amicus (friend of the court) in the matter, politely refused saying his views were contrary to those of the apex court, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, too, criticised the judiciary’s stand on the issue.

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karira

As reported by Dhananjay Mahapatra of TNN in Times of India

http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOI&BaseHref=TOIBG%2F2009%2F01%2F23&ViewMode=GIF&GZ=T&PageLabel=10&EntityId=Ar01000&AppName=1

 

HC judges strike a new path

 

Firm On Declaring Assets; Chief Justice, Too, Pondering On The Move

 

The growing popular pressure for across-the-board transparency in public, appears to have blown judiciary's resistance to the demand for declaration of judges' assets, with a section of Delhi high court judges declaring their intent to make the disclosure on their own.

 

The HC judges who voted for transparency at a full court meeting last week are determined to go ahead with the move despite reservations among peers who are still arguing what they call judicial exceptionalism.

 

But even as the status quoists continue with the resistance, the move by the reformists, combined with the bold refusal of veteran constitutional lawyer Fali S Nariman to be the amicus curiae in the case arising from judiciary's challenge to CIC order for disclosure, promises to be the trigger for the Supreme Court to revisit the issue soon. Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan is learnt to be mulling a proposal to make it mandatory for judges of the HCs and the SC to declare their assets to the President, their appointing authority.

 

This will be in sync with the practice in government, where employees declare their assets to their appointing authority. This goes hand in hand with protransparency groundswell in the Bar.

 

Constitutional experts and senior advocates are fully in support of

Nariman's views, which was intimated to the Delhi HC along with a blunt refusal to become the amicus curiae in the petition filed by SC challenging a Central Information Commission order to make public the fact whether or not judges periodically declared their assets. But, the debate ended in a stalemate with many opposing the idea.

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karira

As reported by Dhananjay Mahapatra of TNN in Times of India

http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOI&BaseHref=TOIBG%2F2009%2F01%2F23&ViewMode=GIF&GZ=T&PageLabel=10&EntityId=Ar01000&AppName=1

 

HC judges strike a new path

 

Firm On Declaring Assets; Chief Justice, Too, Pondering On The Move

 

The growing popular pressure for across-the-board transparency in public, appears to have blown judiciary's resistance to the demand for declaration of judges' assets, with a section of Delhi high court judges declaring their intent to make the disclosure on their own.

 

The HC judges who voted for transparency at a full court meeting last week are determined to go ahead with the move despite reservations among peers who are still arguing what they call judicial exceptionalism.

 

But even as the status quoists continue with the resistance, the move by the reformists, combined with the bold refusal of veteran constitutional lawyer Fali S Nariman to be the amicus curiae in the case arising from judiciary's challenge to CIC order for disclosure, promises to be the trigger for the Supreme Court to revisit the issue soon. Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan is learnt to be mulling a proposal to make it mandatory for judges of the HCs and the SC to declare their assets to the President, their appointing authority.

 

This will be in sync with the practice in government, where employees declare their assets to their appointing authority. This goes hand in hand with protransparency groundswell in the Bar.

 

Constitutional experts and senior advocates are fully in support of

Nariman's views, which was intimated to the Delhi HC along with a blunt refusal to become the amicus curiae in the petition filed by SC challenging a Central Information Commission order to make public the fact whether or not judges periodically declared their assets. But, the debate ended in a stalemate with many opposing the idea.

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karira

As reported on ptinews.com on 23 January 2009:

Judges free to make public their assets: CJI

 

Judges free to make public their assets: CJI

 

New Delhi, Jan 23 (PTI) Amidst the raging clamour for disclosure of assets by judges, Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan today made it clear that it was up to the judges to make public their wealth and it was not an issue of his willingness.

"It is not a question of my willingness. If any judge wants to disclose he is welcome to do it," he told reporters when asked whether he had any objection if any judge was willing to voluntarily disclose his assets.

 

Some of the judges are believed to have insisted that the judges should make public their assets to set an example, while some others were of the view that they should go by the existing practice of disclosing their wealth to their respective Chief Justices.

 

The CJI said that the apex court judges would be meeting to discuss the issue but did not elaborate on when it would take place.

 

"There are so many problems that are discussed. We should be discussing that issue also (assets)," the Chief Justice remarked when asked by reporters whether there would be any meeting to discuss the controversial matter.

 

The Delhi High Court had on January 19 stayed an order passed by the Central Information Commission asking the Supreme Court's information officer to give information to an RTI applicant on whether judges of the apex court have declared their assets to the CJI. PTI

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karira

As reported on ptinews.com on 23 January 2009:

Judges free to make public their assets: CJI

 

Judges free to make public their assets: CJI

 

New Delhi, Jan 23 (PTI) Amidst the raging clamour for disclosure of assets by judges, Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan today made it clear that it was up to the judges to make public their wealth and it was not an issue of his willingness.

"It is not a question of my willingness. If any judge wants to disclose he is welcome to do it," he told reporters when asked whether he had any objection if any judge was willing to voluntarily disclose his assets.

 

Some of the judges are believed to have insisted that the judges should make public their assets to set an example, while some others were of the view that they should go by the existing practice of disclosing their wealth to their respective Chief Justices.

 

The CJI said that the apex court judges would be meeting to discuss the issue but did not elaborate on when it would take place.

 

"There are so many problems that are discussed. We should be discussing that issue also (assets)," the Chief Justice remarked when asked by reporters whether there would be any meeting to discuss the controversial matter.

 

The Delhi High Court had on January 19 stayed an order passed by the Central Information Commission asking the Supreme Court's information officer to give information to an RTI applicant on whether judges of the apex court have declared their assets to the CJI. PTI

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Atul Patankar

An Opinion/Edit by Yamini Aiyer of indianexpress.com on January 24, 2009

 

Publish or perish

 

Should information on Supreme Court judges’ assets be made public? The Central Information Commission (CIC) argues they should but the Chief Justice of India (CJI) disagrees and the Supreme Court registry has challenged the CIC’s order on the declaration of judges’ assets. On the 19th of January, the Delhi High Court responded to the registrars appeal and stayed the order of the CIC. This controversy has serious ramifications both on the scope and powers of the Right to Information Act (RTI) as well as on efforts to promote transparent and accountable governance in India and hence merits serious attention.

 

The issue of declaration of judges’ assets was first mooted in 1997 when the Supreme Court passed an informal resolution that required judges to declare their assets, in private, to the Chief Justice. In November 2007, an RTI application was filed in the Supreme Court requesting a copy of this resolution as well as any details on judges that had furnished such information. In responding to this application and the subsequent Information Commission order, the Supreme Court has argued that this ‘informal’ resolution was not a mandatory exercise under the law and therefore the CJI cannot be ordered to disclose it. The CJI has also stated that when this information is submitted to the Chief Justice, it is done so in ‘private’ and therefore these documents are not, and cannot be, made public.

 

The Supreme Court’s response highlights two critical issues. The first relates to the scope and powers of the RTI Act — Who or what institutions ought to fall within the purview of the RTI? In its order to the Supreme Court, the Information Commission draws on the technicalities of the Act to argue that the Supreme Court and the CJI as its head qualify as ‘Public Authorities’. The Act defines a Public Authority as any authority, body, or institution of self-government established by the constitution, the Parliament’ State legislatures or by Government notifications and orders. By this definition the Supreme Court — as an institution created by the constitution — is unquestionably a ‘Public Authority’.

 

But technicalities aside, there is a more fundamental issue that emerges from this controversy — that of the values, norms and standards that underlie our public institutions. Accountability is the cornerstone of democracy. Public institutions — institutions that draw on public funds and that are endowed with the power to make decisions that directly impact citizens’ lives — have to be answerable for their conduct. The quibble over technicalities of whether or not the Chief Justice is a public authority and whether he falls within the purview of the RTI Act demonstrates just how deeply resistant the system is to norms of accountability. The obvious irony of the Supreme Court, the key institutional mechanism for enforcing accountability of the executive and legislatures, refusing to hold itself up to legally set standards of accountability and transparency, has not escaped most commentators. The Supreme Court should and must be held to the same standards that it seeks to uphold.

 

The second issue that this controversy brings out relates to the notion of what constitutes public information. Implicit in the CJI and Supreme Court’s position is the argument that private assets of public individuals are not a matter of public concern. This is a tricky issue. After all, what bearing does an individual’s private assets have on his or her ability to fulfill their public obligations? But surely any information which is essential to understanding how public functionaries interact with and exercise their powers to follow and implement the laws of the land is ‘public’ information. Citizens have a ‘right’ to know whether public functionaries abide by laws, rules and procedures and what steps they take to implement and safeguard these laws. Disclosure of assets, to the extent that it is an indicator of the extent to which laws and powers are being abused, is relevant to citizens and must be placed in the public domain. The recent corruption scams afflicting the judiciary are an indicator of just how crucial information on assets is to the effective functioning of our public institutions and therefore how important it is for this information to be ‘public’.

 

In the last decade the Supreme Court has actively supported many crucial campaigns — be it the right to food or the right to information — to push for greater accountability and transparency in our institutions of governance. In fact, a striking feature of this trend is that the executive and legislatures response to these campaigns has to a large extent been a consequence of Supreme Court intervention. The standards set by the Supreme Court are thus critical to shaping institutional behaviour and public discourse in this country. By challenging the provisions of the Act and the Information Commission’s orders, the Supreme Court has set a very dangerous precedent — one that does not bode well for the future of the Right to Information and the effort to institutionalise norms of accountability and transparency in our governance structures.

 

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Center for Policy Research and a member of the Right to Information Assessment and Analysis Group

 

Source Publish or perish; Publish or perish

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Atul Patankar

An Opinion/Edit by Yamini Aiyer of indianexpress.com on January 24, 2009

 

Publish or perish

 

Should information on Supreme Court judges’ assets be made public? The Central Information Commission (CIC) argues they should but the Chief Justice of India (CJI) disagrees and the Supreme Court registry has challenged the CIC’s order on the declaration of judges’ assets. On the 19th of January, the Delhi High Court responded to the registrars appeal and stayed the order of the CIC. This controversy has serious ramifications both on the scope and powers of the Right to Information Act (RTI) as well as on efforts to promote transparent and accountable governance in India and hence merits serious attention.

 

The issue of declaration of judges’ assets was first mooted in 1997 when the Supreme Court passed an informal resolution that required judges to declare their assets, in private, to the Chief Justice. In November 2007, an RTI application was filed in the Supreme Court requesting a copy of this resolution as well as any details on judges that had furnished such information. In responding to this application and the subsequent Information Commission order, the Supreme Court has argued that this ‘informal’ resolution was not a mandatory exercise under the law and therefore the CJI cannot be ordered to disclose it. The CJI has also stated that when this information is submitted to the Chief Justice, it is done so in ‘private’ and therefore these documents are not, and cannot be, made public.

 

The Supreme Court’s response highlights two critical issues. The first relates to the scope and powers of the RTI Act — Who or what institutions ought to fall within the purview of the RTI? In its order to the Supreme Court, the Information Commission draws on the technicalities of the Act to argue that the Supreme Court and the CJI as its head qualify as ‘Public Authorities’. The Act defines a Public Authority as any authority, body, or institution of self-government established by the constitution, the Parliament’ State legislatures or by Government notifications and orders. By this definition the Supreme Court — as an institution created by the constitution — is unquestionably a ‘Public Authority’.

 

But technicalities aside, there is a more fundamental issue that emerges from this controversy — that of the values, norms and standards that underlie our public institutions. Accountability is the cornerstone of democracy. Public institutions — institutions that draw on public funds and that are endowed with the power to make decisions that directly impact citizens’ lives — have to be answerable for their conduct. The quibble over technicalities of whether or not the Chief Justice is a public authority and whether he falls within the purview of the RTI Act demonstrates just how deeply resistant the system is to norms of accountability. The obvious irony of the Supreme Court, the key institutional mechanism for enforcing accountability of the executive and legislatures, refusing to hold itself up to legally set standards of accountability and transparency, has not escaped most commentators. The Supreme Court should and must be held to the same standards that it seeks to uphold.

 

The second issue that this controversy brings out relates to the notion of what constitutes public information. Implicit in the CJI and Supreme Court’s position is the argument that private assets of public individuals are not a matter of public concern. This is a tricky issue. After all, what bearing does an individual’s private assets have on his or her ability to fulfill their public obligations? But surely any information which is essential to understanding how public functionaries interact with and exercise their powers to follow and implement the laws of the land is ‘public’ information. Citizens have a ‘right’ to know whether public functionaries abide by laws, rules and procedures and what steps they take to implement and safeguard these laws. Disclosure of assets, to the extent that it is an indicator of the extent to which laws and powers are being abused, is relevant to citizens and must be placed in the public domain. The recent corruption scams afflicting the judiciary are an indicator of just how crucial information on assets is to the effective functioning of our public institutions and therefore how important it is for this information to be ‘public’.

 

In the last decade the Supreme Court has actively supported many crucial campaigns — be it the right to food or the right to information — to push for greater accountability and transparency in our institutions of governance. In fact, a striking feature of this trend is that the executive and legislatures response to these campaigns has to a large extent been a consequence of Supreme Court intervention. The standards set by the Supreme Court are thus critical to shaping institutional behaviour and public discourse in this country. By challenging the provisions of the Act and the Information Commission’s orders, the Supreme Court has set a very dangerous precedent — one that does not bode well for the future of the Right to Information and the effort to institutionalise norms of accountability and transparency in our governance structures.

 

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Center for Policy Research and a member of the Right to Information Assessment and Analysis Group

 

Source Publish or perish; Publish or perish

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As reported in indopia.in on 24 January 2009:

486157 : National : Committee urges SC not to press petition before Delhi HC

 

Committee urges SC not to press petition before Delhi HC

 

Hyderabad

 

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice has urged the Supreme Court registry not to press its writ petition pending before the Delhi High Court in the case related to declaration of assets by judges.

 

"The Supreme Court registry may use its wisdom to save the Right to Information Act by not pressing the writ petition it filed in the Delhi High Court. The petition will harm the RTI Act," the Parliamentary Standing Committee chairman E M Sudarsana Natchiappan has observed.

 

Talking to reporters after a two-day review of implementation of RTI Act, reservation policy, vigilance and prevention of corruption in public sector undertakings here today, Natchiappan said the Standing Committee would soon submit a recommendation to Parliament for doing away with application fee for RTI petitions.

 

"RTI applications are being rejected on frivolous reasons such as application fee of Rs 10 not paid by the applicant. This is leading to appeals right up to the High Courts. For the sake of Rs 10, government is forced to spend Rs 10,000 on the court case," Natchiappan pointed out.

 

A detailed report on the implementation of the RTI Act in various public sector undertakings would be presented to Parliament soon, he added.

 

Referring to the reservations issue, the chairman said the PSUs have been asked to clear all backlog with respect to recruitments as well as promotions."In the last one year, there has been good progress in the implementation of reservation policy for Scheduled Tribes. Similar effort should be made with regard to SCs, OBCs and physically-challenged," he said.

 

" Canara Bank has recruited 71 visually-challenged persons at different levels followed by Syndicate Bank (47) and Corporation Bank (30). It's a good progress in the past one year," Natchiappan said.

 

Referring to corruption and vigilance in public sector undertakings, the Standing Committee chairman said complaints regarding corruption fell significantly from double digits to single digit, particularly in banks.

 

In banks, he pointed out, vigilance and corruption control mechanism was doing well up to the level of the general manager."We are now requesting the Government of India to take it further up to the top levels of banks so that corruption could be tackled more effectively," he added. Other PSUs too were adopting a two-layer vigilance and corruption control mechanism, he said.

 

The Parliamentary Standing Committee reviewed the activities in Andhra Bank, National Mineral Development Corporation, Mishr Dhatu Nigam Limited, Bharat Dynamics Limited, Electronics Corporation of India Limited and State Bank of Hyderabad.

 

The seven-member committee also held discussions with Andhra Pradesh Chief Secretary P Ramakanth Reddy and Chief Electoral Officer I V Subba Rao on the proposed amendments to the Representation to People Act and also the Constitution (108 Amendment) Bill (women reservation). The committee also took views of political parties on these Bills pending in Parliament.�

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