Tussle Between the Central Information Commission and Supreme Court Over Disclosure of Assets

Supreme Court 

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By Ritwick Dutta (Posted: January 29, 2009) 

The last few weeks had seen a unique situation in India where the Supreme Court (the Apex Court in the Court) filed a petition before the Delhi High Court against an order passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC).

The situation arose in view of the order of the Central Information Commission directing that “The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Supreme Court is directed to provide information as to whether declaration of assets, etc., has been filed by the Honourable Judges of the Supreme Court or not within ten working days from the date of receipt of this decision notice,”.

The judgment followed the refusal by the Supreme Court to entertain a query on the declaration of assets by judges. The Applicant S C Agrawal had applied to the apex court for a copy of a Full Court Resolution passed on May 7, 1997, prescribing “every judge to make a declaration of assets in form of real estate or investments held in their names or in the name of their spouses and any person dependent on them to the Chief Justice”. He had also asked if judges had complied with the Resolution, and whether any high court judge had ever declared their assets to their respective Chief Justices. The Supreme Court had parted with a copy of the Resolution, but stonewalled the other queries.

It was argued by Supreme Court officials during the hearing that the declaration of assets submitted by the judges of the Supreme Court are confidential and the information has been provided to the Chief Justice of India in a fiduciary relationship and, as such, its disclosure is exempted under the Act.

The Central Information Commission however held that “The appellant…is apparently not seeking a copy of the declarations or the contents therein or even the names etc. of the judges filing the declaration, nor is he requesting inspection of any such declaration already filed. He is seeking a simple information as to whether any such declaration of assets has ever been filed by the judges of Supreme Court or High Courts. What he is seeking cannot be held to attract exemption..”

The Delhi High Court on 18th of this January stayed the order of the Central Information Commission and appointed noted senior lawyer Fali Nariman as an Amicus Curiae to assist the Court. However, Nariman informed the High Court that as he did not agree with the stand of the judiciary, and as such he could not be a friend of the court. Mr. Fali Nariman has refused to act as amicus curie, on the ground that his views on the judges of the High Courts and Supreme Court declaring their assets is well known. Mr. Fali Nariman has repeatedly opined that judges of the High Courts and Supreme Court should declare their assets on assumption of office and continue to annualy declare their assets.

The former CJI, J.S. Verma, has also openly criticized the stand of the judiciary not to make public the assets disclosed by judges voluntarily to the CJI.

The High Court will further hear the matter on 12th of Feb.