Sunday, February 1, 2009

Are judges above the law?

It would have been quite humorous, were it not so pernicious and dangerous. The latest fracas between the Right to Information Commissioner and the Supreme Court is a classic example of how desperately the judicial system in India needs a complete revamp and overhaul. This is what famous lawyer and constitutional expert Fali Nariman has to say about the unwillingness of Supreme Court judges to reveal their assets under the RTI Act: “For judges of the highest court to litigate as to whether or not they should disclose their assets is as bad as judges going to the court on whether it was lawful for income tax to be deducted from the salaries they get! We have good judges, but we need more judicial wisdom." And look at the ‘Supreme’ irony of the whole matter.
Recently, the Central Information Commission passed an order that required judges of the Supreme Court to declare their assets. Rather than gladly agreeing to set an example for everyone else in India, the Supreme Court appealed to a High Court against the order. In other words, it is akin to the Managing Director of a company appealing to a General Manager of his own company against an order passed by an independent board of the company! The High Court promptly stays the Information Commission order and asks Fali Nariman to appear as a ‘friend of the court’ in the case. To his credit, Nariman has politely declined. And urged the judges to lead by example.

Here is another tale from Indian judiciary that is hilarious. The Central Bureau of Investigation is pursuing the notorious Sister Abhaya murder case in Kerala. A High Court judge, Justice K. Hema effectively stays the CBI investigations. A few days later, a fellow judge of the same High Court, Justice R. Basant, asks CBI to continue investigations and says he will personally monitor the case. Then, a furious Justice Hema passes another order a few days later stating that no other judge of Kerala High Court can ‘clarify’ her order and only the Supreme Court can do so!

Then again, honourable judges of the Punjab & Haryana High Court are at each other’s throats over the Rs.15 lakh cash scam. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court says it is better that Justice Nirmal Yadav is transferred as there are allegations that Rs.15 lakh in cash meant for her were by mistake delivered to the residence of fellow judge Justice Nirmaljit Kaur. Justice Yadav formally complains to the Chief Justice that actually there was a Supreme Court judge behind all this and he was present in the residence of Justice Kaur when the cash was delivered.

Meanwhile, investigations are going on against about 42 judges who are alleged to be beneficiaries of the PF scam that was uncovered in Ghaziabad. Though there has been a lot of talk of action against judges, nothing concrete has been done. And of course, it has been months since the Chief Justice of Supreme Court wrote to the Prime Minister recommending that Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court be impeached. Nothing has been done yet. What conclusions can Indian citizens draw if Supreme Court judges are not willing to reveal their assets?


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