Not holy cow, insist citizens

The rider to the decision of higher judiciary to declare their assets and liabilities in the public domain but not entertain any queries about the information made known, has triggered a debate on the use of such disclosures.

 Says Geetha Hariharan, a second year B.A, LL.B student from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore: “The decision is definitely a step towards accountability and might increase transparency in the justice system. But the implications of this move cannot be assessed properly, unless we know the terms of the resolution. If the judges will not entertain questions about their assets, then that would effectively still keep them outside the purview of Right to Information Act.”

This view is strongly seconded by Meera Baindur, a PhD scholar at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, who says: “Some professions demand a high level of personal integrity and trust, and the judiciary is one of them. By declaring their income voluntarily the judges are not only rebuilding their trust with the public, but are also setting an example.” She adds that the RTI should apply uniformly to all agencies of the Government.

While maintaining that bringing the higher judiciary under the purview of RTI would be a major judicial reform, to not just ensure accountability but also constitutional equality for all citizens irrespective of the offices held, many believe that there is a lot more that needs to be done in this direction.

Aditya B S K, a Union Public Service Commission aspirant, argues: “High courts and lower courts interact with a much larger population when compared to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, here is where the levels of corruption are higher too. Therefore, declaration of assets and liabilities of judges from high courts and lower courts, and bringing them under RTI is more important.”

Pradeep Mohan, an advertising professional, who believes that transparency in any public service would only help in building confidence in the institution, adds: “The legal system needs to introduce more ways to make itself approachable to the common man as opposed to it being perceived as the ‘elitist’ institution for select few. If the judiciary agrees to comply by the RTI, it would make it look more committed to the common good.”

KIC firm

Apart from the judiciary, many suggest that the assets and liabilities of bureaucracy should also come under the RTI, a view that the Karnataka Information Commission has firmly held. “While bureaucrats have to respond to RTIs on queries about the functioning of their respective offices, they declare their assets and liabilities to their departmental heads or the Chief Secretary but not in the public domain. This should change.

Information on  public servants should be included in the RTI,” Pradeep says. He remarks that this would vastly help change the perception of public servants as being corrupt and inefficient.

Meera Baindur adds that even heads and trustees of educational institutions funded by government should be included under RTI.

While the Ministry of Law is contemplating bringing in other judicial reforms, Aditya opines that the policy of appointment and transfer of judges needs some scrutiny. He suggests that the policy should be a lot stricter. “While a judge from a particular state is not made the Chief Justice of his home state, a similar policy is not followed with the appointment and transfer of high court judges. So there is a possibility that the ruling political party of a state may favour the appointment of a judge who is a supporter of the party. This is an issue that needs attention,” he remarks.

Coming back to the present issue of judges and the RTI, and the judiciary’s concern about compliance to RTI doing more harm than good, Geetha Hariharan retorts, “There is a possibility of malicious litigation with respect to RTI, but the benefit accrued outweighs the possible harm. We put the judiciary on a pedestal because it has so much power, but it must be accountable to the people, for that is who it serves, finally.”

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