In an unprecedented move the Supreme Court (SC) of India on Monday uploaded on its website, details about the the assets and liabilities of 21 SC judges, including the Chief Justice of India Justice KG Balakrishnan. Details about the assets and liabilities of a retired judge, Justice B N Agarwal (who retired on October 15), has also been uploaded on his own special request. Details for Justice H S Bedi is not available on the website since he is out of the capital on account of a bereavement. The disclosures, which have been put on the website of the apex court, also include the assets of their spouses.
Law Minister of India, M Veerappa Moily today termed as the decision as “an excellent gesture” and said this proved the integrity of Indian judiciary was the “highest”.
“It is not their (judiciary) intention to hide anything. But there are some issues. Even then, making it (assets) available to public is an excellent gesture on the part of the judiciary,” Moily told PTI.
The description of the properties have been made under four broad categories:
- immovable assets like landed property, including buildings and flats;
- shares and investments;
- movable properties, including jewellery and vehicles; and
- liabilities like loans, unpaid bills, etc.
There has been a call from civil rights groups for more transparency from civil servants and this is seen as a gesture to prove the integrity from the Judiciary. The judges had initially opposed the demand of disclosure, arguing that declarations could make them susceptible to harassment through frivolous litigation.
The Supreme Court even opposed in Delhi High Court the January 6 order of the Central Information Commission asking the SC Registry to provide information whether judges declared their assets regularly or not.The stance changed after two HC judges came out in the open to argue for disclosure, leading to the decision by the Full Court meeting on August 28.
While some judges have been very meticulous and exhaustive in declaring every little detail of the property some have disclosed approximate values. Nevertheless this a significant step towards transparency for now from a scenario where no information was available. The disclosure has also been marked by some surprise revelations. While most of the judges have been successful practicing lawyers in the past; one of the judges doesn’t own even a two-wheeler.