Leak of CBI director’s confidential reply irks SC, adjourns hearing to Nov 29

New Delhi:The Supreme Court Tuesday adjourned the hearing on CBI Director Alok Verma’s plea challenging the government’s decision to divest him of his duties, expressing anguish over the alleged leak of his response to a CVC report.

The court, while adjourning the hearing to November 29, also expressed displeasure over publication of graft allegations by CBI DIG M K Sinha against senior officers.

The top court adjourned the matter twice, soon after the hearing began and again later in the day.

Irked over the alleged leak of Verma’s confidential response to the Central Vigilance Commission’s findings on corruption charges against him, the top court said none of “you deserve any hearing”.

“We don’t think any of you deserve any hearing,” Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi said, adjourning the matter for the first time.

However, the court agreed to hear Verma’s plea after finishing the day’s hearing after his lawyers Fali S Nariman and Gopal Shankaranarayanan mentioned the case again before a bench headed by Gogoi.

The CBI director in his plea has challenged the government’s decision of divesting him of his duties and sending him on leave. 

Later, the bench recommenced the hearing, making it clear at the outset that it was not going to hear any party and would confine itself to the issues red flagged by it.

Miffed over the alleged leak in a media portal, the bench, which also comprised justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, said it wanted to keep Verma’s response confidential to maintain the CBI’s dignity. 

Taking umbrage of various media reports based on the petition filed by Sinha, Gogoi said, “But here is a litigant who mentions it before us and then goes out to distribute the petition to everyone.” 

Sinha on Monday dragged the names of NSA Ajit Doval, Union minister Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary and CVC K V Chowdhury over alleged attempts to interfere in the probe against CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana, who has been divested of his duties and sent on leave along with his boss.

The bench said, “This court is not a platform for people to come and express whatever they want.” 

“This is a place where people come for adjudication of their legal rights. This is not a platform and we will set it right,” it said.

The top court again adjourned hearing to November 29 and refused to hear any party, including the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

Government can’t provide food to all : Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia

Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia

Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia Sunday said the government can’t be expected to provide food, education and healthcare to all but advocated relief to the deprived sections.

Addressing the 17th Commonwealth Law Conference, he said while it was not possible to have access for everyone to everything, the needs of those below the poverty line should be addressed.

“Equal access to food cannot be given. You cannot have access to all in a population of one billion but those who are below the poverty line can have it,” he said.He pointed out that after the financial meltdown, there was a paradigm shift from equality in the sense of equal access to minimum core approach.

“Basic amenities, basic social goods can always be provided and in that we can balance it with development. At the same time, we can help the common man,” he said.

“It is the paramount duty of judges to adopt an approach in interpretation which enhances social welfare,” he said.

More than 800 delegates, including judges, jurists and legal luminaries, from 54 Commonwealth countries are attending the five-day conference which began Saturday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Sunday formally inaugurated the biennial conference, held in India after a gap of four decades.

Referring to the case of a HIV patient who could not afford a second line of treatment, the chief justice said that in such cases it was not open to the government to toll the bell of financial crunch.

“In such cases, we have to apply minimum core approach. If you have a paradigm shift from equal access to deprivation, then for those classes of persons who are totally deprived the government cannot say we will not provide the requisite relief,” he said.

“I believe that if a person comes below the poverty line, subject to certain caveats, it is not open for the government to say we have no funds because the government is also obliged to administer certain economic reforms but Article 41 of the Constitution says very clearly that it will depend on the resources,” Justice Kapadia said.

“After financial meltdown in even Western countries, jurisprudence is taking a different view than what it used to take in the past. They are now saying we should refigure and revisit welfarism which is called reconfiguration of welfare rights and which is also called as reconfiguration of discrimination laws,” he added.

The chief justice said that while industrial growth and service sector growth was around 12 percent, there was stagnation in agriculture at four percent. He called it as one of the reasons for scarcity of food and said it is having chain reaction on inflation.

He urged Manmohan Singh to consider introducing Indian Regulatory Service on the lines of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS).

“This is very important step because we need experts. You can’t have a commissioner of income tax sitting in SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India) deciding certain matters. We need experts in regulatory laws by which a common man will get the benefit,” he said.

Citing the example of electricity tariff, he said the regulator may apply amortization principle to bring down the cost.

“The common man will get the electricity at much cheaper rate. Similarly, we can bring in least cost methods,” he said.Justice Kapadia called for convergence.

“Now the time has come when we should not segregate economics and other fields, including technology from law. This is how law should develop and this is how you can take equality to poor people.”

Chief Justice of India (CJI) comes under RTI, rules Delhi High Court

NEW DELHI: In a landmark verdict, the Delhi high court on Tuesday said the Chief Justice of India is a public authority and his office comes within

the ambit of the RTI Act as the concept of judicial independence is not judge’s personal privilege but responsibility cast on the person.

This is in sharp contrast to Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan’s stand that his office was outside the ambit of the transparency law.

However, the high court added that notes, jottings and draft judgments of the CJI’s office would not fall within the umbrella of the transparency law. But “if the judge turns in notes, along with the rest of his files to be maintained as a part of the record, the same may be disclosed,” court said.

The apex court will now have to appeal to itself against the high court order . As soon as the court pronounced its verdict, counsel for the apex court sought the certificate copy of the HC order to file an appeal.

As a natural corollary of the high court verdict, the information pertaining to the assets of the apex court judges, the appointment of judges to the apex court furnished to the office of the CJI will come within the purview of the transparency law. The declaration of the assets by 25 judges of the Supreme Court, including the CJI and one retired judge (Justice B N Agrawal) which has been posted on the web site of the apex court, however , says, such declaration was purely voluntary.

A full bench of the high court headed by Chief Justice A P Shah, Justice Vikramajit Sen and Justice S Muralidhar dismissed the appeal of the apex court which had vehemently opposed bringing CJI’s office within the purview of the act on the ground that it would encroach into its judicial independence .

“Judicial independence is not the personal privilege or prerogative of the individual judge. It is the responsibility imposed on each judge to enable him or her to adjudicate a dispute honestly and impartially on the basis of the law and the evidence,” said the high court in its 88 page judgment.

The high court said, higher the judge is placed in the judicial hierarchy , greater was the standard of accountability and stricter the scrutiny. “If declaration of assets by a subordinate judicial officer is seen as essential to enforce accountability at that level, then the need for such declaration by judges of the constitutional courts is even greater,” it said turning down the plea that Supreme Court judges are not bound to declare their assets.

Giving a wider interpretation to the transparency law, which was hailed as “the most significant event in the life of Indian democracy” , the court said that right to information was part of Fundamental Rights enshrined in Articles 14 (right to equality), 19(1)( a)( freedom of speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.

“The source of right to information does not emanate from the Right to Information Act. It is a right that emerges from the constitutional guarantees under Article 19(1)( a) as held by the Supreme Court in a catena of decisions . The Right to Information Act is not repository of the right to information ,” the court said.

The court said that the standards of judicial behaviour, both on and off the bench, were normally extremely high. “For a Judge, to deviate from such standards of honesty and impartiality is to betray the trust reposed to him… A judicial scandal has always been regarded as far more deplorable than a scandal involving either the executive or a member of the legislature. The slightest hint of irregularity or impropriety in the court is a cause for great anxiety and alarm,” said the bench in its unanimous judgment.

The high court said that the unanimous resolution of SC judges passed in 1997 on declaration of assets cannot be questioned now. The judges had then decided to put details of their assets in public domain. It also observed that the judges of the higher judiciary were not less accountable than the judicial magistrates legally bound to declare their assets.

The Supreme Court had appealed before the division bench of the high court challenging order passed by a single-judge bench of the high court. Justice S Ravindra Bhatt had said, “CJI is a public authority under the RTI Act and the CJI holds the information pertaining to assets declaration in his capacity as Chief Justice. That office is a public authority under the Act and is covered by its provisions.” Realising the importance of the case, the division bench had referred the case to a full bench.

Advocate Atul Nanda, appearing for the apex court, contended the issue is of national importance and so it has to be decided by the apex court.

The high court order was welcomed by the legal fraternity. The government on its part, however, said, the verdict by which details of judges assets can be sought invoking RTI should not affect the “independence” of judiciary . “We must safeguard the independence of judiciary… We do not consider the verdict as an embarrassment ,” law and justice minister Veerappa Moily said. Moily noted there are still avenues of appeal to the Supreme Court but did not want to comment further.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for RTI activist Subash C Agarwal , who is behind the campaign for judges to declare their assets, said, “It is a very historic judgment by the high court which will certainly enhance the stature of judiciary in the country.” Senior advocate and Congress spokesman A M Singhvi welcomed the verdict and hoped that the administrative side of the apex court would not go in appeal on the judicial side.

Former Chief Justice of India J S Verma, who was instrumental in getting the May 7, 1997, resolution passed unanimously pertaining to declaration of assets by the judges publicly opined that the assets of the Supreme Court judges were very much in the public domain.