CJI still cagey about assets declaration

Abraham Thomas | New Delhi
Source: http://www.dailypioneer.com

Days after the Supreme Court judges scripted history by resolving to disclose their assets in public, the Chief Justice of India on Friday feared that the information could be misused. “Who said we have shed our fears?” KG Balakrishnan said in response to a question whether the full court resolution was a step to demonstrate that the judges had shed their fears of such information being misused. The CJI was speaking at a rare formal interaction with the media.

Mindful of what he had conceded – all for the cause of transparency – the CJI pointed out that while the United States Supreme Court judges declared their assets, the information was subject to strict confidentiality. In Argentina too, the information about judges’ assets was accessible to public after a strict scrutiny of the bona fides of the person making the request, he added.

“We have taken a decision strictly on the basis of the May 7, 1997, resolution…. Now it is for the people to judge and decide,” Balakrishnan said when asked on the possibility of the disclosures being ‘misused’. On being asked to comment about the danger of information being used in any legal proceedings against a judge, the CJI merely smiled and let the question go.

In a freewheeling interview, the CJI was his usual self – calm, composed and reticent. He candidly answered some questions and ducked some others.

The CJI was forthcoming on a number of issues. On whether in the name of transparency, he would disclose information about judicial appointments discussed in the collegium, Balakrishnan stoutly refused. “We are not going to disclose collegium matters.” He pointed out that since the office of the Chief Justice of India did not relate to the Supreme Court alone but was a constitutional office, not all information could be revealed.

For this reason too, the CJI maintained that the Supreme Court had pursued the appeal against the CIC order asking them to reveal information to an applicant who sought information on the compliance of the 1997 resolution, and yet again on the disciplinary action been taken against a high court judge.

“I have voluminous confidential information with me exchanged by the President, the Prime

Minister and judges. It cannot be given to the Registrar General. There is no question of passing this information,” CJI said. The CIC, according to him, was wrong to the extent that all information with the Chief Justice of India office is made available to the Registrar General.

On the Government’s decision to bring a law, Balakrishnan said the matter was purely for Parliament to decide. Even on the aspect whether high courts would follow suit after the Supreme Court’s historic decision, the CJI said, “The Supreme Court has no supervisory authority over the high courts. If a judicial order is passed (by the Supreme Court), then it’s binding on the high courts. But any order or resolution passed by the administrative side is not binding.”