Why SC Judges Need To Make Better Disclosures Of Their Assets

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The  spotlight is on the judiciary, now that it has been taking on an  activist role in many areas. From cancelling licences in the coal and  2G scams to deciding on how to tackle vehicular pollution in Delhi or  licensing of dance bars in Maharashtra, the courts have been going  far beyond just interpreting the law.

And  no less than the President, Pranab Mukherjee, was constrained to make  a mention of excess judicial activism. He  said: “Each organ of our democracy must function within its own sphere  and must not take over what is assigned to others.’’

Among  other things, the judiciary has been at the forefront of demands for  transparency in government. But those demanding transparency in  others ought to be transparent themselves. This writer decided to  check out how transparent the judiciary itself was in disclosing its  assets and liabilities, and he found that some of the disclosures  lacked detailing.

It  was in 1997 that a “full  court meeting of the Supreme Court resolved  that every judge should make a declaration of all his/her assets in  the form of real estate or investments (held by him/her in his/her  own name or in the name of his/her spouse or any person dependent on  him/her) within a reasonable time of assuming office, and thereafter  whenever any acquisition of a substantial nature is made, it shall be  disclosed within a reasonable time.”

Table  A below shows the declarations  made by Supreme Court judges.  A simple perusal of the declarations, as available on 13 May 2016,  shows that some judges have made delayed declarations, some not at  all, and some without indicating the dates on which these assets and  liabilities have been valued.

TO  SEE TABLE please click on link http://swarajyamag.com/ideas/why-sc-judges-need-to-make-better-disclosures-of-their-assets

The  following are some broad observations one can make from the  declarations found on the Supreme Court site.

One,  all but four judges have made declarations. (Note, the disclosure of  assets is currently made voluntarily).

Two,  some judges have not stated the date of valuation of their assets.

Three,  the declarations are supposed to be made within a reasonable time  after appointment. Some judges declared their assets more than six  months after appointment.

Four,  some declarations include the spouse’s assets but others do not. It  is not clear if this is because the spouse does not have any assets  worth the name or an inadvertent omission.

Five, barring a few, the declarations of assets have not been updated  regularly.

Six,  the declaration of assets does not consistently give the value of  individual assets.

Since  these declarations are voluntary, and since voluntariness cannot be  the basis for accountability and transparency, this might be a good  time to revisit the 1997 resolution to make the declaration more  standardised and regular and obligatory.

Here  are some suggestions.

One,  the declaration of assets and liabilities (movable and immovable  property for self, spouse and dependent children/parents) by all  judges of the Supreme and the High Courts should be made mandatory.

According  to a Press  Information Bureau note of 3 December 2014, “Section 44 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act,  2013 mandates that every public servant (as defined in the Act, which  includes ministers, members of Parliament, government employees,  employees of statutory bodies, public sector undertakings, etc.)  shall make a declaration of his assets and liabilities as well (that)  of his spouse and dependent children in the manner as provided by or  under the said Act”.

The  declarations made should be accessible to the public, just as is the case for Union ministers.

Two, the  declaration must clearly state the date on which it is made, and  updated annually, or when there is a substantial change.

Three,  all declarations should be uploaded on the respective court sites.

Four,  declarations should be made within 90 days of a judge’s  appointment, as is the case for Lok Sabha MPs.

Five,  every asset in the declaration should be as per market value as on a  specific date.

Six,  the declaration should end with this line: “I, Mr/Ms XXX, hereby declare that the information given above is  true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief. “

The  judiciary judges the acts of omission and commission of many people.  Just as Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, so too the  judiciary.

First  published Click here to view

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