THE Indian judiciary is considered the most powerful in the world by many observers. In terms of standards of accountability, however, the higher judiciary in India is viewed as the least accountable. The August 26 resolution of the Supreme Court’s Full Court in favour of disclosure of judges’ assets on the court’s website is a result of a sustained campaign by various civil society groups and activists and the sheer force of public opinion, which viewed with suspicion the judiciary’s reluctance to disclose judges’ assets.
The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform (CJAR) is one such civil society initiative, which has from time to time brought together on a common platform various grass-roots activist groups to seek judicial accountability and to mobilise public opinion on the demand for transparency in the functioning of the judiciary.
In this interview with Frontline, Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate of the Supreme Court and convener of the CJAR, answers a range of questions on the assets controversy and its impact. Excerpts:
The CJAR has won a major success with the Supreme Court’s decision to place details of judges’ assets on its website. What explains this success?
Well, initially this was not the major focus of our campaign. But we began to campaign on this issue because it was related to Right to Information (RTI). The RTI has already caught the public imagination. We understood early on that the demand for disclosure of judges’ assets would also catch the public imagination.
It all started with an innocuous RTI application seeking to know whether the judges were indeed filing their asset details with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) in accordance with the 1997 Resolution. Despite the August 26 decision of the Supreme Court’s Full Court, this application has not yet been answered. What is the truth?
Nobody knows. The Supreme Court has been contesting this whole issue right up to the High Court. The CJI has made it clear that the case before the High Court has not become infructuous because the Central Information Commission (CIC) has wrongly decided the case in favour of the RTI applicant saying, ‘the CJI’s office is under the RTI’. The CJI has held the view that his office handles sensitive information. Sensitive information that can cause any kind of harm to the public interest can always be withheld under one or two exemptions. But it is an absurd proposition to say that because an office receives sensitive information it is outside the ambit of the RTI. The Prime Minister’s Office receives even more sensitive information. But the PMO is clearly under the RTI.
Read full interview on FRONTLINE