Assets bill delay a signal for ministers to go slow

Assets bill delay a signal for ministers to go slow

While the bill itself may represent the government’s willingness to protect the judges asset declaration from public scrutiny, the deferral would show that it may not be able to act on it in the face of growing opposition to the move.

In particular, clause five of “The Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Act, 2009, caused uproar during the bill’s introduction stage in the Rajya Sabha. Besides the opposition members, some from Congress also voiced their reservation on the provision that states, “no judge shall be subjected to any inquiry” on the basis of their declaration.

The Congress sources told Deccan Herald that the deferral was an indication to the ministers to go slow on the reform agenda. After HRD Minister Kapil Sibal’s’s open snub for rushing through education reforms without adequate consultation inside the party, sources suggested that it was Law Minister Veerappa Moily’s turn to get the “go slow” message.

By deferring the bill, the government averted an embarrassing defeat, which would have been certain if members had asked for a division. The UPA was in a minority in the House when the bill was introduced.

Moily, who was forced to defer the bill, told this newspaper later that he would hammer out a consensus by holding consultations with all the political parties.

“I do not want to confront either the Opposition or the judiciary,” the law minister said. “My effort will be to arrive at a consensus. We may bring the Bill in the winter session. I rule out promulgating an ordinance for this”. Moily rejected the view that the deferral was an embarrassment for the government.

“We are working on such legislation for the first time in 60 years. The Judiciary cannot be regarded in the same position as politicians or bureaucrats. They cannot hold press conferences if something is said about them. The bill is part of the (wider) judicial reform which the Law Ministry would unveil before September 30,” he said in defence of the bill.
Moily said the bill provided for the judges to declare their assets before a competent authority. While other judges would declare their assets before the chief justice, the chief justice would in turn declare his asset details to the President.

Opponents of the Bill pointed out that this would mean special treatment to the judiciary, as the President and the Prime Minister are themselves obliged to declare their assets in public.