Of late there has been a lot of talk regarding the necessity of a judicial accountability bill. Even when the Lokpal Bill was being debated, the inclusion of judges into the Lokpal's ambit was strongly opposed by the government despite members of the civil society urging the government to make such an inclusion.
There have been reports galore regarding judges being offered sites or houses under discretionary quotas, with a recent expose on judges of the Orissa high court being given plots by the government. Prior to this there were reports from Karnataka and also about how the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat had offered prime land to high court judges.
The big question is whether judges deserve such treatment from the state government considering the fact that the government is the biggest litigant before any court in the country.
Former Karnataka Lokayukta, Justice Santhosh Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge himself, says it is illegal to accept plots under the discretionary quota.
"Judges ought to know that by accepting such sites they are succumbing to temptation. They have to examine any such offer and find out properly whether it is in accordance with law or not. It is very dangerous to accept such favours since it could be held against them," he said.
"Speaking of the judges' accountability bill, there is one but it has not come out as yet. This has been loitering around for some years now and it is time that something was done about it," he notes.
Hegde, also a member of social activist Anna Hazare's anti-corruption team, further said, "In fact, while we were discussing the Lokpal Bill, this was one of the primary contentions during the debate. Either the government had to include it in the Lokpal Bill or make functional the judges' accountability bill. However, there was a lot of misunderstanding regarding this. All I said was it was not right to leave out the judges when we are fighting corruption."
"They should include this portion into the Lokpal Bill. However, once the Judicial Accountability Bill is made functional then it could be deleted from the Lokpal Bill. There was no need to keep this in abeyance until that happened. When this issue is being argued and fought for the past 44 years, then it is imperative for the government to include it," he added.
Senior advocate in the Karnataka high court, Navkesh Batra, is of the view that accepting plots under the discretionary quota is nothing but corruption.
"First and foremost judges are not entitled for a plot under this quota. This quota is meant for poor people, outstanding people including judges. It cannot be given as an allotment as it amounts to nothing but a sop. When the government is the biggest litigant before any court in India, then such a sop does not instill confidence in the public and it would be better if both the government and the judiciary abstain from such an act," Batra says.
Batra recalled, "Here I would like to quote an incident involving the great Justice RA Jahagirdar of the Bombay high court. In fact he was the only judge who refused to apply for a plot despite a request by the then chief minister of Maharashtra. He even went one step further, and at a public function when the CM sought to shake his hand, he publicly rebuked him by saying, 'Mr CM, your cases are pending before the high court. As a high court judge I refuse to shake your hand'."