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The CJI or his fellow judges on the SC may not have paid heed to Fali Nariman's suggestion to voluntarily declare their assets, but two High Court judges, Justice K Kannan of the Punjab and Haryana High Court (who voluntarily declared his assets) and Justice D.V.Shylendra Kumar of Karnataka High Court, who joined issue with the CJI, questioning his right to speak on behalf of all judges and against such declarations, have provided a silver lining to the dark cloud. In a very unusual but forthright two-part article in the New Indian Express on August 20 and 21 which was later reproduced by the Indian Express on August 22, Justice D.V.Shylendra Kumar wrote:
An article of this nature, which is otherwise not common or usual for a judge to pen, has become necessary only to convey to the people of this country that the impression created as of now is not necessarily the correct impression; that the judges of the superior courts of this country do not necessarily subscribe to the views and apprehensions expressed hitherto; that they have views and opinions otherwise than what has been conveyed to the public at large so far. The judges have nothing to fear; they have nothing to hide and they have no hesitation to disclose particulars of their assets and even for throwing open the information to the public domain. In fact, it is for the judges of this country to act and provide information even voluntarily. Indeed, I humbly appeal to all my brother and sister judges of the superior courts to do so. No inhibition need deter us from this path.
The CJI was forced to clarify that he is not against the declaration of assets: "If the judges want to declare their assets, no one can prevent (them). How can I prevent. If the law comes everybody has to declare" but went on to say, "The public has a right to know what is happening in judiciary and I am telling and I stand by what I have said on disclosure of assets by judges". He also said that Justice Kumar, who had said that the CJI had no authority to speak on behalf of other judges, wants publicity and that is why he has written on the issue, which is not good for a judge. He added: "He wants publicity and such a thing is not good for a judge. Judges should not be publicity-crazy," he added.
Former Chief Justice of India J. S. Verma joins the debate occasioned by the controversy over the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill 2009 and agrees with Fali S. Nariman:
Even though it is more than a decade since I demitted the office of Chief Justice of India, yet I would like to do the next best. I had made a disclosure of my assets soon after I assumed office of CJI in March 1997 and kept it with the Registrar General of the Supreme Court as a part of the official record. Similar declarations were then made by all the Supreme Court judges voluntarily pursuant to the unanimous resolution of May 7, 1997. I invite the Chief Justice of India to make a public disclosure on the Supreme Court’s website of the declaration of my assets which must be with the Registrar General in the official record. I do hope most of the judges in the high courts and the Supreme Court would act likewise and bring quietus to this unsavoury controversy. Judiciary’s real strength lies in public acclaim. I am sure this will raise us a “peg or two” in public estimation.
Read the full piece here
"it is not the law minister alone who was rebuffed in the Rajya Sabha on August 3, when the House would not grant him leave to introduce the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill 2009. It was a rebuke also to the judges of the higher judiciary; they were pulled down a peg or two for having expressed their readiness to disclose their assets if there was a law to that effect enacted by Parliament, but only if that law ensured the confidentiality of such declaration."
Arun Jaitley, the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha had pointed out in the Rajya Sabha that this is the " first time in history that before introduction in Parliament the Bill has been circulated to the judicial institution itself, and it is on their objection that this clause 6 has been introduced":
I have particular objection to clause 6 of the Bill. Sir, clause 6 of the Bill specifically states, and, I am reading clause 6, "notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, a declaration made by a Judge to a competent authority shall not be made public or disclosed, and, shall not be called for, or, put into question by any citizen, court or authority, and, save as provided by sub-section 2, no Judge shall be subjected to any enquiry or query in relation to the contents of the declaration by any person."
In the Rajya Sabha itself, Ram Jethmalani had gone on to say:
Now, this privileged position, which the Judges are seeking from the Executive, makes them totally subservient to the Executive. This demolishes the whole vision of our founding fathers that the independence of the Judiciary is a must. You are destroying the independence of the judiciary. This Bill is a conspiracy in corruption.
Fali S. Nariman now suggests a way out in the Indian Express:
If the credibility of the higher judiciary is to be restored, as I believe it must — since without the higher judiciary our Constitution simply cannot work — it is essential that every judge of the Supreme Court set an example and voluntarily make a public disclosure of his (or her) assets on the website of the Supreme Court, law or no law. This would then be dutifully followed by judges of the high courts on the salutary principle stated in the Bhagavad Gita: “Whatsoever great men doeth, that other men also do; the standard they setteth up, by that the people go.”
...I would respectfully beseech the judges of our highest judiciary not to rely on the technicalities of the RTI Act or to depend on the executive to extricate them from their present delicate no-win situation. Public confidence in the administration of justice by the higher judiciary is of paramount concern.