2 HC judges, including Kumar, declare assets

CJI now seeks consensus among superior court judges on the issue

Joining Justice Kumar in the midst of a divisive debate over the declaration of assets by the judges of superior courts under the Right to Information (RTI) Act during the day was Punjab and Haryana High Court judge K Kannan, who too declared his assets.

Justice Kannan sent a copy of the declaration to the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court. A senior judge of the Madras High Court was expected to follow Justice Kannan’s footsteps.

The move by Justices Kumar and Kannan came in the immediate backdrop of the former’s public articulation that the judges of the Supreme Court and high courts should volunteer to declare their assets within the purview of the RTI Act. He has gone further and questioned the views aired by Chief Justice of India  K G Balakrishnan.

  Justice Kannan provided details of assets owned by him and his wife. But he clarified he had not intended to defy the CJI on the issue of judges declaring their assets.

“I am neither taking on the Chief Justice of India nor are my views different from his on the subject of declaration of assets by the judges of Supreme Court and High Courts. I have been misunderstood,” Justice Kannan said.

Reacting to the declaration of assets by the high court judges earlier during the day, Justice Balakrishnan said in the evening that he had no problem if individual judges declared their assets.

 ‘‘I do not have any problem if individual judges declare their assets, but we have taken a stand before the Delhi High Court,’’ Justice Balakrishnan said, speaking to reporters after a function here on the Supreme Court premises.

However, the CJI said though every high court judge was free to declare his/her assets, the apex court needed to reach a consensus on the issue. “We are trying to evolve a consensus on the issue,” the CJI said.

On Saturday, Justice Balakrishnan had termed as “publicity crazy” the views expressed by Justice Kumar  that the CJI had no “authority to speak for all other judges of the superior courts of this country” on the assets’ declaration issue.

Contentious issue

The issue of assets’ declaration by superior court judges had become a contentious issue ever since the Supreme Court  rushed to the Delhi High Court seeking an injunction against the Central Information Commission’s queries to the CJI early in January. The CJI had initially suggested that the RTI did not apply to the apex court, implying that the judges were not required to make public disclosure of their assets.
Questions were also raised if the superior court judges were “public servants” as defined under RTI, though way back in 1991 the Supreme Court had ruled that the judges of the Supreme Court and high courts were public servants.

The Centre has hardly helped to clarify the situation as it virtually upheld the CJI’s position in a suggestion. It proposed in the aborted Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill earlier this month that the declarations by the judges need not be disclosed but only required to be submitted with the President. Justice Kumar, in his public articulation last week, sought to clarify the situation. “It’s a misnomer to think that the judges of the superior courts are not ready to disclose their assets,” he said.

1997: Superior court judges are public servants, rules SC

1997: Conference of CJs declares judges should voluntarily declare their assets

Jan 2009: Central Information Commission writes to CJI on assets declaration

Jan 2009: Apex court gets Delhi HC injunction against assets’ declaration

July 2009: CJI opposes making public declaration of assets by judges; Justice Kumar questions this view

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