The split within the judiciary over the issue of disclosure of judges’ assets widened on Sunday with the Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan dubbing Karnataka High Court judge D V Shylendra Kumar move to chart his own course on the issue as being driven by “publicity”. Refuting charges that he was against judges making their assets public, Justice Balakrishnan said no one can stop them if they chose to do so.
The CJI’s remarks came even as a Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge K Kannan declared his assets voluntarily. He also advocated setting up of an in-house mechanism within the judiciary to regulate its conduct.
Two days ago, Justice Kumar had said that it was a “misnomer” to think the judges did not want to declare their assets and that the CJI did not have the authority to speak for all judges of the Supreme Court or high courts unless any of them has confided in him or authorised him to speak on behalf of others. The Karnataka judge said he was prepared to disclose his assets.
“If the judges want to declare their assets, no one can prevent (them). How can I prevent it? If the law comes everybody has to declare,” the CJI was quoted by a news agency as saying.
He also said that as head of the judiciary, he had the right to speak on behalf of all judges as was the practice in other countries.
“The public has a right to know what is happening in the judiciary and I am telling them. I stand by what I have said on disclosure of assets by judges,” he said.
On Justice Kumar’s views on the matter, he said “he wants publicity and such a thing is not good for a judge. Judges should not be publicity-crazy.”
Justice Balakrishnan said that in the absence of a law to make public the disclosure of assets, there is no agreement among the judges in this regard and a consensus has to be evolved.
He said the Supreme Court judges were following the 1997 resolution and declaring their assets involving real estates and other investments to the CJI. While all apex court judges have given details about their assets and even the additional assets after assuming office, some of the high courts have not accepted the resolution and the judges are not disclosing their assets to the chief justice. The CJI had said judges could be harassed if their assets were made public.
Justice Kannan was one of the recipients of letters written by lawyer and campaigner for judicial reforms Prashant Bhushan to high court judges in January suggesting that they disclose their assets.
The Punjab and Haryana judge was of the view that there were other dimensions to the issue of making public assets of judges, including who should a judge be answerable to on how he has got the wealth, what to do with corrupt judges and whether “a full-fledged roving enquiry” should be made about antecedents of a judge before he is appointed.
The rift within the judiciary has reinforced the opposition parties stand on the Judges (declaration of assets and liabilities) Bill, which the government was forced to withdraw in the last session.
The Opposition protested against the proposed legislation saying it spared judges public scrutiny of their assets denying a level-playing field to all organs of democracy.
They also objected to judges being kept beyond the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.