SC judges to declare assets

SC judges to declare assets

Karnataka HC judge Shylendra Kumar posts details online

SC judges to declare assets

The historic decision on transparency was taken at a two-hour-long brainstorming meeting of the apex court judges that was led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Justice K G Balakrishnan. Informed sources said the meeting arrived at a consensus in favour of declaring the judges’ assets for public scrutiny. The apex court has been resisting a loudening public call for openness and transparency regarding the assets of the superior courts’ judges.

But on Monday, in the wake of the voluntary declaration of assets by Justice D V Shylendra Kumar of Karnataka High Court, the CJI had announced that he and his colleagues would seek a “consensus on assets issue”, observing also that he did not have “any problem if individual judges declare their assets, but we have taken a stand before the Delhi High Court”.

It is also reliably learnt that the assets of the individual judges will be available for public scrutiny on the Supreme Court website in a few days’ time. At present, the assets are outside the public domain, though there is an internal process in the Supreme Court which requires individual judges to provide information about their assets to the CJI.

With the consensus decision to go public with the assets, the Supreme Court has effectively dropped its contention before the Delhi High Court that the assets of the apex court judges are outside the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
It was the Central Information Commission’s query to the CJI, virtually seeking information about the judges’ assets that had prompted the Supreme Court to approach the Delhi High Court on March 17, 2009, for an injunction in the matter. The injunction against the RTI query was obtained.

The apex court’s U-turn also means that the case before the Delhi High Court would lose its relevance. In fact, it is learnt that the Supreme Court registry will now withdraw the petition pending before the High Court.

Just on Sunday, the CJI had termed Justice Shylendra Kumar’s disagreement with the secrecy about assets and argument in favour of making the judges’ assets public as a “publicity-crazy” stance. But Justice Shylendra Kumar and Justice K Kannan of the Punjab and Haryana High Court embarrassed the secrecy argument of the CJI, as they put their assets and liabilities for public scrutiny on Monday.

Last week, Justice Shylendra Kumar, in an article, said that the “most damaging and uncalled-for impression (has been) created in the minds of the public” that judges of superior courts, who enjoy Constitutional protection and immunity, “are wary of disclosing their assets” and would like to keep this information “well guarded...and also cover up a possible misdeed or a possible improper acquisition”.  It would now be interesting to see what the Union government would do next. It had made an aborted bid to introduce a bill in Parliament to enact a law that envisaged, among others, that the assets of the apex court judges would remain outside the RTI purview.

On the website

Meanwhile, in Bangalore, Justice Shylendra Kumar on Wednesday put up the details of his assets and liabilities (that he had submitted to the High Court Registrar General on Monday, on a website.

A note on the site stated that the particulars of assets of Justice Shylendra Kumar, were being displayed on the site as the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court had prevented the information from being displayed on the High Court website. According to the information posted on the website, Justice Shylendra Kumar owns assets worth Rs 50.38 lakh.

Top legal minds  welcomed the decision to make public judges’ assets after initial reluctance saying “it is better late then never”.

Former Attorney General and Constitutional expert Soli J Sorabjee said: “it is a very good decision taken by the judges. I think it is a very good development. It’s better late than never.” He added that the judges have heeded the views of former chief justices and senior advocates who were also very keen to maintain the image of the judiciary.

“I am sure their initial reluctance not to declare assets was not because they had anything to hide. They had misgivings that it may be misused,” he said.

Agreeing with Sorabjee, advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had launched a campaign on the issue, said it would also now encourage the judges of the high courts to make public their assets.

“It is an absolutely welcome move and I am sure it will also encourage the judges of the high courts to publicly declare their assets and force the government to put up assets of government servants on public website which can be accessed by the people,”Bhushan said.

Senior advocate K K Venugopal termed the decision as “excellent”.

“I think it is the greatest steps that the judiciary could take because it has cleared all the clouds which have been hanging over the issue,” he said.

Sorabjee said the decision will raise the stature of the judiciary in public eye.

“It raises the stature and image of the judiciary and what is more it reinforces the confidence of the litigants in the supreme judiciary,” Sorabjee said.