Government retreats on judges’ assets disclosure bill


New Delhi : The government Monday deferred the introduction of a bill on the declaration of judges’ assets after members across the spectrum said in the Rajya Sabha that it violated the Constitution and the Right to Information Act.

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“In view of the sentiments expressed by the members and to build consensus on the issue, I am deferring the introduction of the bill,” Law Minister Veerappa Moily said, as member after member, including Jayanti Natarajan of the ruling Congress, objected to clause six of the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill 2009 under which the assets of judges could not be made public.

Opposing the introduction of the bill after Moily sought permission to do so, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley (Bharatiya Janata Party) said: “Under clause six, a judge has to declare his assets to a competent authority and this cannot be made public.

“If I want to contest an election, I have to first declare my assets and these are made public. Thus, clause six seeks to give a different interpretation to article 19 of the constitution. We can’t have two interpretations of the same article.”

“We can’t have dual interpretations of the law for people seeking to hold public office and those already occupying public office,” he added.

Jaitley also objected to the fact that the bill had been “circulated among the judiciary and has been drafted on the basis of their recommendations”. Moily, however, contested this.

Noted jurist Ram Jethmalani (Nominated) termed the bill a “conspiracy of corruption”.

“The bill creates suspicion that the judiciary is seeking favours from the executive. This bill will make the judiciary subservient to the executive,” he contended.

Just before this, Natarajan stood up to say that since clause six of the bill violated the Right to Information act, it should be referred to a parliamentary standing committee.

Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan too favoured this route, but Sitaram Yechury (Communist Party of India-Marxist) said: “Sir, you know what happens of the recommendations of standing committees. They are not legally binding on the government.”

Moily, on his part, attempted to defend the bill, terming it the “first step” of “many things to come” but this cut no ice with the opposition MPs.

“Many say there is corruption in the judiciary and we need to deal with it. We can hardly do anything. Even the Judges Enquiry Act only lays down the procedure for impeachment. It doesn’t deal with acts of omission and commission.

“This bill is the first step in that direction. There are many things to come, including a more comprehensive judges enquiry act,” Moily pointed out.

He also sought to make out a case for keeping the assets of judges under wraps as this information could be used to “intimidate” judges and “hold them to ransom”.

Yechury was quick to latch on to this, saying: “Sir, the minister has made out a very good case for removing clause six. Let this clause be removed and let the bill be introduced. Let us put the issue to vote (on whether or not the bill should be introduced).”

At this, Moily said he was deferring the measure to build greater consensus.