Judging Our Judges

Source: The post is based on an article “Judging our judges” published in The Times of India on 23rd July 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 Functioning of the Indian Judiciary

Relevance: Judicial Transparency and Accountability

News: Recently, AK Ganguly, a former judge of the Supreme Court, commented that India is a “mature” democracy. However, JB Pardiwala, a present SC judge, commented more recently that India isn’t a “completely mature” democracy. This raised a debate
over whether India is a “mature” democracy?

What are the parameters of a mature democracy?

Transparency is the hallmark of a mature democracy. This implies the dissemination of information to the citizen, especially about the public servants who are funded through the public exchequer. This also applies in the case of Indian democracy.

Democracy seems to be more mature when the disclosure of information has been done voluntarily than due to the stick of law (or legal mandate).

Why is India a mature democracy?

The public servants including Ministers, MPs, and Bureaucrats (all-India services) disclose information about their assets and liabilities.

The government has also enacted the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act (2013) for that reason.

Why is India not a completely mature democracy?

In India, the judiciary has failed to disclose the information voluntarily.

The government tried to make it mandatory through the ‘Declaration of Assets and Liabilities by Supreme Court, High Court and Subordinate Court Judges Bill’ of 2009. However, the law could not be passed.

In 2009, the Central Information Commission (CIC) tried to bring judges under the ambit of the RTI. But SC and HCs exempted themselves from the disclosure under Right to Information (RTI) Act.

In 1997, the SC adopted a resolution, making asset disclosure mandatory for SC judges. Some of the HCs also followed the path. But they mandated the disclosure within “a reasonable time” after assuming office. There were no clear deadlines. Therefore, the rules failed.

In 2009, the SC resolution watered down mandatory disclosure to voluntary disclosure. Further, the 2009 resolution of the Supreme Court (SC) was followed by around 25 High Courts (HCs).

Status of voluntary disclosure by the Judges at Global and India

(A) Indian Judiciary (as of 13 July 2022))

(1) The SC’s website gives asset information for only four judges. Of these, two (including the former Chief Justice) have already retired.

(2) Out of 25 HCs, only 7 HCs have put the information about the assets and liabilities of judges on their websites. However, the percentage of judges who have done voluntary declarations varies across these 7 HCs.

(a) Punjab & Haryana HC, Kerala HC, and Himachal HC have disclosed information of 75% of judges. Thus, these can be said to be matured institutions.

(b) The Delhi HC has published information of only 36. 1% judges.

(B) Global: As per the findings of the report titled ‘Getting the Full Picture on Public Officials’ in 2017, published by the World Bank and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

(1) In more than half of the 161 countries covered, judges and prosecutors mandatorily disclose assets.

(2) More than 60% of the SC judges have done disclosure.

(3) In 56% of those 161 countries, in addition to the public officials, judges and prosecutors are also required to disclose assets.

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