Partial disclosure


The judges of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice of India (CJI), have delivered on their promise of voluntary disclosure of their assets and liabilities by publishing their details in the Supreme Court website. It is a step towards transparency and would be welcomed. The judges had resisted the demand for disclosure of assets for a long time and it was public and media pressure and a willing disclosure by a high court judge that finally persuaded them to do what they have done now. But the apex court still has not accepted the need for disclosure as a responsibility. Last month the  court challenged a single bench order of the Delhi high court, delivered in September, which ruled that the CJI is a public authority and disclosure of assets by members of the judiciary came within the purview of the Right to Information Act.

The disclosures which have been made are also disappointing because they lack many important details. They give an idea of the different saving habits of different judges. Some of them have invested in real estate, others in shares and yet others in the government’s savings schemes. But the information will be useful only when the market value of the assets is known and details like the time of acquisition of property are given.

That will indicate the present value of the property and whether they were acquired during the judicial career or before that. It will also be noted that the properties in possession of the judges have not been identified. In many cases the amount of savings and the value of properties have not been provided. These details are very important. Another drawback is that the disclosures have covered only the assets of the judges and their spouses. Information about the assets of other close relatives, like sons and daughters, is also important in the Indian context.

The declarations have been made under a Supreme Court resolution of May, 1997 which calls upon the judges to disclose their assets. What has been done now is only in partial conformity with that requirement. It actually underlines the need for a law that makes the disclosure mandatory and open to the public, lays down in detail what are the assets to be declared, how the disclosure is to be made and who all should come under its purview. It should also specify the consequences of wrong declarations.

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