01, Oct 2009
The Times of India
October 1, 2009
SC misses HC’s query deadline on judges’ assets
Manoj Mitta | TIMES NEWS NETWORK
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday failed to meet the Delhi high court’s deadline for responding to the basic question whether its judges had at all been filing declarations of their assets before the Chief Justice of India in terms of a 1997 resolution.
This could be linked to the continuing uncertainty over whether the Supreme Court would appeal against the judgment delivered by Justice S Ravindra Bhat of the high court on September 2.
There has also been a surprising delay on the part of the apex court in implementing its widely welcomed August 27 resolution to post details of the assets of judges on its website in deference to pressure from civil society
and conscientious objectors from within the judiciary.
All these developments related to transparency in judicial functioning were triggered by an RTI application filed by activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal in 2007 seeking to know whether the 1997 resolution on disclosure of assets adopted by the Supreme Court judges was still being observed. JudgesÂ’ assets declaration on case-to-case basis
New Delhi: The Delhi high court verdict of September 2, while ruling that the CJIÂ’s office was answerable under the RTI, directed the central public information officer (CPIO) of the Supreme Court to respond to activist S C AgrawalÂ’s question on the 1997 disclosure of assets resolution within four weeks.
The Supreme Court failed to meet this deadline even after Justice Bhat had taken pains to explain that it applied only to the disclosure of whether judges were filing declarations and not to the more sensitive issue of whether the contents of those declarations be made public.
This is how Justice Bhat made a parenthetical distinction in the concluding part of his landmark verdict: “The CPIO shall release the information sought by the respondent applicant about the declaration of assets (and not the contents of the declarations, as that was not sought for) made by judges of the Supreme Court, within four weeks.
As regards the contents of the declarations, Justice Bhat held that those were Â“entitled to be treated as personal information and could be accessed only in accordance with the elaborate procedure prescribed by Section 8(1)(j) for disclosure of the kind of personal information that has Â“no relationship to any public activity or interest or which could cause unwarranted invasion of the individualÂ’Â’. This meant that, according to the high court verdict, the details of the assets of judges can be made public under RTI on a case-to-case basis, subject to the satisfaction of the CPIO or
appellate authority that Â“the larger public interestÂ’Â’ justified the disclosure of such personal information.
The difficulty involved in accessing the details of the assets under RTI has however been mitigated by the resolutions adopted by judges of the Supreme Court and some of the high courts to make a voluntary disclosure of their assets on their websites.