Govt retreats on judges' assets bill

Govt retreats on judges' assets bill

BJP, Left MPs oppose Clause VI, Cong sees violation of RTI Act

Members cutting across party lines strongly opposed Clause VI of the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill, 2009, according to which high court and Supreme Court judges would have to declare their assets without having to make them public.
Subsequently, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily had no choice but to announce that the bill’s introduction was being deferred.

The Opposition in the Upper House made its intent clear as soon as Moily sought to introduce the bill, with the BJP and the Left parties, objecting to the clause. Congress members like Jayanti Natarajan also opposed the contentious clause.

Facing opposition from all sides, Moily said: “It is deferred. It is an important bill, so I would like a consensus to emerge.”

Before deferring the bill, however, he made a strong pitch for it, saying it was a “first step” of “many things” to come. “Many say there is corruption in the judiciary and we need to deal with it. We can hardly do anything. Even the Judges Enquiry Act only lays down the procedure for impeachment. It does not deal with the acts of omission and commission. There are many things to come, including a more comprehensive Judges Enquiry Act,” he said.

Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley (BJP) said under Clause VI, judges’ assets would not be made public, while “if I want to contest an election, I have to first declare my assets and these are made public. “Thus, Clause VI seeks to give a different interpretation to Article 19 of the Constitution. We cannot have two interpretations of the same article. We cannot have dual interpretations of the law for people seeking to hold public office and those already occupying public office,” he said. Jaitley alleged that the bill had been circulated among the judiciary, and said it had been “drafted on the basis of their recommendations,” a charge that Moily refuted.

Natarajan opposed Clause VI, saying it might violate the Right to Information Act, and demanded it be referred to a parliamentary standing committee. Noted jurist Ram Jethmalani said the bill was a “conspiracy of corruption. It creates suspicion that the judiciary is seeking favours from the executive. This bill will make the judiciary subservient to the executive.”

However, Moily sought to defend the clause, saying that making judges’ assets public could lead to intimidation and “holding them to ransom.” But his argument failed to cut any ice with members, with CPM’s Brinda Karat saying that the bill was violative of the tenets of equality of all citizens. The bill was approved by the Cabinet in July but faced opposition from social activists and parties.

Issues at stake

* According to clause VI of the bill, HC and SC judges would declare their assets but they would not be made public

* Clause VI seeks to give a different interpretation to Article 19 of the Constitution, says BJP

* Cong member Jayanti Natarajan says the clause might violate the RTI Act

* This bill will make the judiciary subservient to the executive, says Ram Jethmalani

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