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The Supreme Court is currently functioning with twenty-seven judges as against a sanctioned strength of thirty-one. Just fourteen of the sitting Supreme Court judges have disclosed their assets on the website of Supreme Court of India.
The assets of the remaining thirteen judges are yet to be published. Interestingly, the thirteen include all the three judges who have been elevated directly from the Bar.
The thirteen judges, whose assets are yet to be published, are:
Of these thirteen judges, three judges – Justice Rohinton Nariman, Justice UU Lalit and Justice L Nageswara Rao were directly elevated from the Bar. The last five judges, Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Mohan M Shantanagoudar, S Abdul Nazeer, Navin Sinha and Deepak Gupta were elevated to Supreme Court only in February this year.
Disclosure of assets by judges has an interesting history.
It was in 2009 that a full court of the Supreme Court of India took the significant decision – one which came about after great pressure from the public and from within the judiciary.
On August 26 that year, the country’s apex court decided to publish details of judges’ assets on the court website. However, this resolution itself was pursuant to another Full Court resolution taken 12 years earlier in 1997, as per which, judges of the Supreme Court were mandated to disclose their assets to the Chief Justice of India.
“Resolved further that every judge should make a declaration of all his/her assets in the form of real estate or investments (held by him/her in his/her own name or in the name of his/her spouse or any person dependent on him/her) within a reasonable time of assuming office and in the case of sitting judges within a reasonable time of adoption of this resolution and thereafter whenever any acquisition of a substantial nature is made, it shall be disclosed within a reasonable time.
The declaration so made should be to the Chief Justice of the court. The Chief Justice should make a similar declaration for the purpose of the record. The declaration made by the judges or the Chief Justice, as the case may be, shall be confidential.”
In 2007, RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal requisitioned the Central Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court to furnish a copy of the resolution dated May 7, 1997 and also sought information relating to declaration of assets furnished by the judges.
This led to a prolonged legal battle, with the Delhi High Court finally ruling in Agrawal’s favour. An appeal by the Supreme Court against this decision is still pending. Meanwhile, the Full Court of the apex court had gone ahead and taken the decision in 2009 to publish the details of assets of judges on its website. Even after the Supreme Court decided to publish assets, several High Courts delayed, and some High Courts like the Allahabad High Court passed a resolution not to publish the Assets.
Since the said resolution was passed, assets of 54 judges of Supreme Court have been published on the website. Of these, 40 are retired judges, while 14 are sitting judges. Interestingly, the old website had details of assets of Justice Raveendran, which are missing on the new website. If Justice Raveendran’s asset details are included, the number goes up to 55.
So, is the disclosure of assets by judges voluntary or is it compulsory? The old website of the Supreme Court certainly pointed to the former. It clearly stated that the declaration of assets by judges “is purely on voluntary basis”. However, the new website does not make such a statement.
It could also be that these judges have declared their assets to the CJI though the same has not been published in public domain.
This is the first part of the series. We will be tracking the similar data pertaining to various High Courts.