The apex judicial resolution attached to Balakrishnan’s better says: “Every judge should make a declaration of his/her or spouse/dependents’ assets within a reasonable time of assuming office.” They are also to give information about new assets acquired, additional property purchased or further investments made if they were of “substantial nature”, assuring them that they would not be for public consumption and that they would remain confidential. The CJI has also promised to take measures against “black sheep in judicial robes”.
The immediate provocation for this missive appeared to be the case of Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court for alleged misappropriation of Rs. 50 lakhs. And the CJI has recommended to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his removal as Justice Sen rejected the advice to resign or seek voluntary retirement after he had been found guilty of the misconduct in an inhouse inquiry.
If removed, Sen would be the first such judge to be impeached since the Constitution came into force on 26 January 1950. The move comes at a time when allegations of corruption against judges are on the rise. Earlier, an attempt to impeach Supreme Court Judge V. Ramaswami failed in 1993 after all 205 MPs of the ruling Congress party abstained from voting on the motion. According to the Constitution, the motion must have a simple majority of the House and two-thirds of those present. Many cases of corruption against the judges have come to light since then but no action has been taken against any of them, for various reasons.
With judiciary reeling under the embarrassment of allegations of corruption facing several of its members, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for “introspection” on judicial appointments. And this is not the first time the Prime Minister has expressed his anxiety about the falling standards. This time, however, the allegations may have greater resonance.
The Prime Minister’s views were echoed by then Law Minister H.R. Bharadwaj on 23 September 2008 when he questioned the procedure for appointment of Supreme Court and High Court Judges, saying that the “quality of some of the judges selected over the years was questionable”. His remarks came a day after the Supreme Court asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the Ghaziabad Provident Fund scam case involving 36 judges. Mr. Bharadwaj said the system of selection by a committee of judges (collegium) had failed. “In a bid to maintain its supremacy, the judiciary tried to rewrite the law through a Supreme Court judgement in 1993, which gave them the powers for appointments and transfers. Merit has been ignored while give-and-take has thrived in the collegium system.”
Bhardwaj said, “It is time for the Parliament to have a re- look at the judges’ appointments and transfers. The quality of some judges selected by the collegium system over the years has been questionable.
The judiciary’s instance has not helped the country.” According to him, the review of judges’ appointments and transfers was possible, but that would require political unanimity. He suggested, “A committee of judges could recommend names, which should be finalised through discussions between the Chief Justice of India and the President. The decision of the President should be final on the advice of the Union Cabinet.
Expressing concern over the rise in corruption allegations against the judges, Mr. Bharadwaj said, “There was a time when the judiciary was above suspicion and people had great respect for it. The same cannot be said today. Serious allegations of corruption against judges are in public domain.
It needs to be corrected.” He added that the government wanted to give judiciary enough time to set its house in order so that it could discuss with the CJI and other senior judges to include their viewpoint before bringing the Judges Inquiry Bill before the Cabinet and the Parliament to make it into a law.
The judiciary is also infamous for its outbursts against the executive, calling the entire system of governance “corrupt” and exclaiming, “God alone will have to help this country”, adding, “Even God will not be able to help this country…. Our country’s character is gone.” The undignified remarks have obviously riled the executive.
Added to this are the admonitions to the media, and pulling up senior counsel and former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan for behaving “like a street urchin”, and telling the police, “You need huntering to make you work.”
This is certainly not what is expected of sophisticated judges occupying the highest seats in judiciary. It pulls down their stature while castigating others who do not toe the line.
Such belligerence is reminiscent of the days during Emergency (1955-77) when one talked of “committed judiciary” and “committed bureaucracy”. The rot that set in at that time continues till this day. Something, indeed, is “rotten” and unless immediate measures are taken to stem and rot, the day is not far when we shall cease having any faith in our judiciary.