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Mandatory declaration of assets by judges will increase transparency

Recently, Justice K Natarajan of Karnataka High Court judge has made this observation, while dismissing petitions filed by fraudster Yuvaraj alias Swami, seeking bail in cases registered against him and judge said that “a former judge of the High Court (Justice B S Indrakala) paying a bribe for securing the post of Governor has “lowered the prestige of a Judge and also affect the image of Governor’s post.”

The judiciary is a strong pillar of democracy. The constitution makers, realizing the importance of the judiciary, have made special efforts to establish it as an independent entity from the executive.

The importance of the judiciary in India can be understood from the fact that when there is a dispute between the Center and the States, the Supreme Court only resolves their disputes, interprets and determines their boundaries. At the same time, the power to issue documents to protect fundamental rights has also been given to the Supreme Court and the High Courts.

In view of the aforesaid form of the judiciary, a good perception towards the temples of justice remains among the general public even today. At present, the judiciary seems to be the only reliable institution in the country.

But in the last few years, there have been some cases which have raised questions on the sanctity of the temple of justice. Recently, a report cited that “77% of the people admitted to corruption in the judiciary during the survey”[1]. The judiciary has the power to punish for contempt due to which the press is also afraid to criticize judicial decisions. This is why corruption has increased in the judiciary.

A controversy erupted over the increasing supremacy of the judiciary in 1973 when Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s government was appointed Chief Justice of the country, disregarding the seniority order of the government, following which three senior judges resigned from their posts.

Judicial Point of View:

A notable case is of 2009 when a dispute broke out between the Supreme Court and the Central Information Commission over the Central Information Commission seeking information related to the property of the judges from the Supreme Court. In the case of Association for Democratic Reforms V. UOI[2], the Supreme Court itself had decided that the candidates of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies should make their property details public at the time of nomination, but the judiciary was hesitant to implement the same decision.

In the case of A R Antulay vs R.S Nayak [3], the court stated in the judgment that the definition of state includes courts. In Section 21 [4] of the Indian Penal Code, the judge has also been considered as a public servant. But when it comes to the right to information, judges refuse to consider themselves public servants.

In 1997, a bench of Justice J S Verma passed a resolution saying that this was a major step towards reform and bringing transparency in the High and Supreme Courts. In the context of this proposal, the Central Information Commission had sought information from the Supreme Court, but then the Judge KG Balakrishnan sparked a debate saying that the Supreme Court is out of the right to information and not instructed to declare their property. A full court resolution was passed by the Supreme Court in the year 1997, under which the Supreme Court judges were mandated to disclose their assets to the Chief Justice of India.

Nearly a decade after the Supreme Court passed a resolution to make public the information on properties owned by its judges. The case took a new turn when Karnataka High Court Judge DV-Shailendra Kumar made it public on his own website, declaring his property. The very next day of this incident, the Chief Justice as well as other judges of the Supreme Court decided to declare their property. Only half of the current judges have reported their assets and investments on the apex court website.

Declaration of Assets:

Out of the 23 sitting judges of the Supreme Court, only 12 judges have so far disclosed their properties on the website of the apex court. Chief Justice Dipak Misra and the next four senior judges after him, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, MB Lokur, Kurian Joseph and AK Sikri are among the judges who disclosed the assets. Justices SA Bobde, NV Raman, Arun Mishra, AK Goel, R Bhanumathi, AM Khanwilkar and Ashok Bhushan have also disclosed their and their family assets and liabilities. On the website of the apex court, the names of Justices RF Nariman, AM Sapre, UU Lalit, DY Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Mohan M Shantanagoudar, S Abdul Nazir, Naveen Sinha, Deepak Gupta and Indu Malhotra are all about properties, liabilities and investments. The disclosures are not included in the list of judges.

The total sanctioned strength of the judges of the Supreme Court is 31, including the CJI. The dates of declaration of assets were not explicitly mentioned by some judges.

According to the Supreme Court, the assets of Chief Justice Deepak Mishra were last declared on 1st May 2012. He became the judge of the apex court on 10th October, 2011. The manifesto shows that the CJI has a residential flat in the Supreme Enclave in East Delhi, which he took in 2003 and a house in Cuttack. In his declared wealth, he has also shown that he has a fixed deposit of Rs 7.4 lakh, two gold rings and a gold chain. Justice Mishra has also shown a loan of Rs 33 lakh from various banks.

According to the Supreme Court, Justice Ranjan Gogoi updated his property details on 6th June detailing the sale of land in Guwahati by him for Rs 65 lakh, along with the ancestral land he and his wife got from their mother. He also owns a Maruti Swift Car.

On 20th July 2012, while revealing his assets on the Supreme Court website, Justice MB Lokur has shown that he has booked a flat in Vasant Kunj area of Delhi and a second flat in JP Greens in Noida.

Justice Kurian Joseph, who was appointed a judge of the apex court on 8 March 2013, owns parts of 6 land in Kerala, some of which are owned by his wife and son. He also owns a second hand Maruti Esteem Car.

On 10th June 2015 Justice AK Sikri declared his assets. He owns a single-story house in Greater Noida, though his wife and joint-owner of a property in Delhi’s posh area Hauz Khas.

Future Enlightenment Towards Declaration of Assets:

After all of these declarations, in 2007, an RTI activist reached the Delhi High Court and demanded the disclosure of property by the judges under the Right to Information Act. The High Court ruled in favor of the petitioner.

On 26 August 2009, the Supreme Court passed another resolution in a full court meeting that judges would voluntarily declare assets, which would be made public. According to the Supreme Court, in addition to the 12 judges who disclosed the assets, besides the Chief Justice, four of the collegium and seven other judges are included.

This step can be considered a major step towards judicial reforms. This opens a door towards judicial reforms from which more light can be expected.

References:
1. Corruption in the Fraternal Judicial System by Transparency International
2. Association for Democratic Reforms V. UOI AIR 2001 Delhi 126, 2000 (57) DRJ 82 (India)
3. AR Antulay V. RS Nayak1988 AIR 1531, 1988 SCR Supl. (1) 1 (India)
4. Public servant, Indian Penal Code 1860, IndianKanoon, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1052367/ (Visited on 25 Apr, 09:45 PM)

About the Author:-

This Article has been written by Aryan Sinha, 3rd Year law (BBA+LLB(H) student at Galgotias University, Greater Noida.

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