With Supreme Court moving an appeal in the Delhi high court against the CIC order on making assets of its judges public, the Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan has made it clear that the judges 'are not bound to disclose' their wealth.
"There is no statute or law which insists that the judges or the superior courts should submit declaration of their assets. Even then, our judges are submitting the declaration of assets to the Chief Justice," the CJI said.
His remarks in an interview to PTI come close on the heels of the Supreme Court Registry taking the unprecedented step of moving the high court, challenging the January 6 decision of the Central Information Commission.
The CIC had asked the Central Public Information Officer of the apex court to furnish information within 10 days as to whether any declaration of assets has been filed by the judges of the Supreme Court or not.
Justice Balakrishnan said he was going by the Resolution passed by the Supreme Court on May 7, 1997 which required judges of the apex court to make a declaration of their assets to the CJI.
"It is not a public document," he said, adding, that the declaration given by his colleagues was 'based on confidence'.
"So it is not proper for me to disclose it. If it is (made) statutory, suppose if there is any Parliamentary enactment that judges should declare their assets and should give it to Chief Justice, then it is a public document," he said.
The CJI went on to emphasise that 'even then, under the RTI Act, they are not bound to disclose it. Under the RTI act, its a private document and personal documents are not to be revealed under the RTI act. Still there is protection.'
In his petition before the CIC, RTI applicant S C Aggarwal had challenged the denial of such information by the Supreme Court CPIO, saying that declaration relating to the assets of the judges under an in-house mechanism are 'confidential'.
Any disclosure of these declarations would be breach of trust fiduciary relationship.
Don't you think that disclosure of assets by judges would set up a moral standard? the CJI was asked. He responded by saying that any judge wanting to declare could do so as no law prohibited it.
The CIC had held that the information cannot be categorised as personal information available with the Chief Justices in their personal category as it is available for perusal and inspection to every succeeding CJI.
It also concluded that the institution and its head can't be considered to be two distinct public authorities and information available with the CJI must be 'deemed' to be available with the Supreme Court.
Disagreeing with the CIC's finding, the CJI contended that information on the judicial or official side can be accessed and would be given while information with the CJI has to be treated on a different footing.
"Now the orders (of CIC) says that any information with the Chief Justice is bound to be known by the Registrar General. But I do not share many of my details with the Registrar, specially appointment of judges and other matters not related to the Registrar," the CJI said.
Such information is held 'exclusively' by the Chief Justice, a view not accepted by the CIC, he said.
The CJI acknowledged that Supreme Court does come under the purview of the RTI Act and for this purpose an information officer has been appointed.