Elders force government to defer judges assets Bill

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 5 2009, 05:25am hrs
The government on Monday was forced to defer introduction of a Bill in the Rajya Sabha that exempts judges from making public disclosure of their income and assets, after it found that the majority of the members, including some from the treasury benches, had objections to critical provisions of the legislation.

The Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill seeks to make it mandatory for the judges to declare their assets and liabilities to a competent authority but says that such declaration would neither be made public, nor be questioned by any citizen, a provision the higher judiciary has been rooting for.

This provision, contained in Clause 6 of the Bill, drew sharp criticism from the BJP and Left parties, who objected to the introduction of the Bill on the grounds that it not only violated the Right to Equality enshrined in the Constitution, but was also ultra vires.

Leader of Opposition in the House, Arun Jaitley, said the provision was violative of Article 19(1)(a) which, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, included the right to information.

CPM members Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechury also demanded that the Bill be withdrawn. Karat said This Bill promotes a class of citizens, namely, judges, who are put above the basic feature of the constitution. I would request the government to withdraw this Bill at this stage to re-look Clause 6. But the most stinging remark came from noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani who described the Bill as a conspiracy in corruption.

What this Bill does is that it creates suspicion in the public mind that the judiciary is seeking favours from the executive... that you put us on a higher pedestal than any other public servant in the country. This privileged position, that the judges are seeking from the executive, makes them totally subservient to the executive, he said.

Even Congress MP Jayanthi Natarajan opposed the introduction on the ground that the proposed law could violate the right to information Act. I would, therefore, request the House and the honourable minister whether they can consider all the objections raised and refer the entire Bill to the Standing Committee for further discussion, she said.

Realising that the members of the Opposition present in the House far outnumbered those of the government, law minister Veerappa Moily said he was deferring the introduction of the Bill to some other time.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi later attempted to brush away the embarrassment: It is a part of parliamentary procedure. The move to defer was taken after recognising concerns voiced by members, he said.