More muck at judiciary door

Pioneer News Service | New Delhi

CIC unhappy with judge's elevation
CBI has evidence against Justice Nirmal Yadav

Fresh trouble has landed at the doorstep of the judiciary with the Central Information Commission (CIC) on Friday questioning the controversial elevation of Justice Jagdish Bhalla as the Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh and the Central Bureau of Investigation gunning for a sitting Punjab & Haryana High Court judge, Justice Nirmal Yadav, for her role in the cash-at-door scam.

For the judiciary, which is already facing flak over the judges' reluctance to make public their assets, the turn of events is a cause for concern. As a measure to put some checks and balances on the system to rein in corruption, a full Bench of the Supreme Court is expected to meet shortly.

A suggestion has emerged that the judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court should submit the details of their assets to the President of India and she, being their appointing authority, be allowed to take a call on making these public.

The CIC's direction came in connection with a plea by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal wherein he sought documents, comprising correspondence between the Union Law Minister and other constitutional authorities, related to Chief Justice Bhalla's appointment.

The CIC, in its order passed on Friday, directed the Law Ministry to disclose all information and file notings on the appointment of Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh Jagdish Bhalla, whose role in an alleged land deal became a controversial affair.

Chief Justice Bhalla, who was earlier the acting Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh, was elevated to SC from the Allahabad High Court amidst allegations that his wife got prime plots in Noida at throwaway prices in violation of norms. Despite the Supreme Court collegium clearing his name as the Chief Justice in 2006, his appointment came under the scanner after the then President APJ Abdul Kalam returned the file to the Law Ministry.

Trouble also brewed for sitting Punjab & Haryana High Court judge Nirmal Yadav, whose role is being probed in connection with the cash-at-door scam by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The premier investigating agency is reported to have unearthed "sufficient" evidence for framing a case against her for allegedly accepting bribe from a Delhi-based hotelier.

A CBI spokesman said on Friday that the probe had been completed in the case relating to the delivery of Rs 15 lakh at the residence of Justice Nirmaljit Kaur, another sitting judge of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, on August 13, 2008. It was later found out that the bag containing the cash was sent by Additional Public Prosecutor Sanjeev Bansal, who stated that the money was mistakenly delivered to Justice Kaur, though it was meant for Justice Yadav, since they both shared their first names.

The CBI spokesperson confirmed that in its report submitted to the Government and Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, the agency has claimed incriminating evidence to establish links between Justice Yadav and the hotelier who claimed to have supplied the amount. The CBI began investigating the case following a request made by the Chandigarh administration after the Chandigarh police registered a case on August 16, 2008.

The CBI has sent the report to the Department of Personnel and Training for seeking the necessary sanction, which has to be accorded by President Pratibha Patil in consultation with the Chief Justice of India.

An in-house judicial committee formed by the Chief Justice of India, after allegations in this regard appeared in a section of the media, also found Justice Yadav guilty. The CJI has already sought a response from Justice Yadav in this regard, and she has reacted by stating that she was being victimised.

Meanwhile, amid the raging clamour for disclosure of assets by judges, Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan on Friday made it clear that it was up to the judges to make public their wealth and it was not an issue of his willingness. "It is not a question of my willingness. If any judge wants to disclose he is welcome to do it," he told reporters when asked whether he had any objection if any judge was willing to voluntarily disclose his assets, according to PTI.