“I don’t think that the general image is seriously dented,” notwithstanding certain alleged episodes, says Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan.
“I hope that I have done reasonably well in the matter of appointments, and in other areas. I have got satisfaction,” Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan says with sober humility and confidence, as he goes on to complete two years in office on January 13. In a special interview granted to The Hindu in New Delhi on January 8, he also spoke on a wide range of issues relating to the state of the judiciary. Excerpts from the hour-long interview:
During the two years you have been in office, have you achieved what you wanted to achieve? There is a perception that the image of the judiciary at large is at a low ebb due to alleged episodes of corruption.
People have a very high level of confidence in the judiciary. I don’t think that the general image is seriously dented. People still have very high confidence in the judiciary. The incidents will not have any impact on the people. And these two incidents [the Ghaziabad Provident Fund scam and the Rs. 15-lakh scandal involving a Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court], especially the PF scam, has nothing to do with the decision-making process of the court. It is fully on the administrative side. [The] real incident is [that] from 2000-2008 for the last seven-eight years applications for the refund of provident fund [accumulations] has been filed and the money was taken out of the treasury. The involvement of district judges is under investigation. I don’t think any High Court judge is directly involved.
In the Punjab scandal, you issued a notice to the judge concerned. What is the follow-up action?
The follow-up action is, the judge has been asked to reply. As per the in-house procedure, depending on the seriousness of the case, we can either ask the judge to resign or work will not be allotted to her.
The Judges (Inquiry) Bill is pending before Parliament. Is there any reservation over the Chief Justice of India being brought under the ambit of the Bill?
[There is] nothing wrong if the Chief Justice of India is covered under the ambit of the National Judicial Council. This is up to the parliamentarians. They are the best people to decide on that.
But will it affect the image of the Chief Justice of India if he is subjected to enquiry?
At least some people have got a grievance about how decisions are made. At least there will be a forum so that they can make a complaint instead of simply scandal-mongering. In some cases people should have an outlet… for their complaints.
There is a suggestion that the National Judicial Council should be made broad-based as a composite authority having representatives of the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Do you welcome such intervention by the executive?
[It is] better not to involve the executive. The Chief Justice or some senior judges can be there. Ultimately if it is found that there is something serious in the complaint, then the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or others can be involved. Even if the entire work is entrusted to the judges it will serve the purpose.
You recommended action against Calcutta High Court Judge Soumitra Sen, but no further action has been taken. Do you intend to write to the Prime Minister again on this?
Why should we write? They are all very, very responsible persons. They know what to do. See, our work is over, they have to take a decision. If the case is not fit for impeachment then they can take a decision. They may feel that it [impeachment] may not go through Parliament.
What action have you taken to weed out corrupt elements from the subordinate judiciary?
Several judicial officers were compulsorily retired in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the last one or two years. That will have an impact. We don’t condone any corruption and whenever there is a serious allegation, action is taken. Several officers were removed. Tell me which department has so far removed any officer on the basis of corruption… we take immediate action.
But in respect of the higher judiciary?
Occasionally I receive some complaints but they are not very serious. They are mostly by disgruntled litigants.
Why is the Supreme Court refusing to concede the demand for setting up Supreme Court benches, particularly in Chennai? When we have so many High Court benches, has not the time come for Supreme Court benches also?
I think most of the judges subscribe to the resolution passed in 1999 by the Full Court of the Supreme Court that locating regional Benches, whether in Chennai or Kolkata or Mumbai, will affect the unity and integrity of the judiciary. The Supreme Court is a national court and it should be in the [national] capital, which is in the central part of India.
About judicial appointments, there is a view that in the collegium system of appointments, there is no transparency.
We are bound by the Supreme Court judgments for the time being. We are strictly following the procedures laid down by the Supreme Court. Unless that decision is changed and the modus of appointment is changed we can’t do anything. Open discussion about judges is not possible here.
For the last two and half years there is no woman judge in the Supreme Court.
We don’t appoint judges just for the sake of representation. Even some States are not represented in the Supreme Court. Some candidates are still being considered. Soon we will see this and something will come in the near future. I hope for that.
There was this recent tiff with the executive on the elevation of three judges...
It was not a tiff. They wanted a further review and asked whether some of the senior judges were also considered. We said they were considered and that is it. I have not felt it that it was a serious objection.
You have started strict scrutiny of initial appointments. Will it have the desired effect?
We are asking for more particulars about candidates so that we will gather a better idea about the candidate. That is the purpose that is being achieved at the recommendation stage itself.
Do you have any comments on the controversy over the Central Information Commission seeking details on disclosure of assets of judges?
The Central Information Commission says any information [that is] with the Chief Justice of India would be with the Registry also. No Chief Justice, whether [it is the] Chief Justice of India or the Chief Justices of the High Courts, shares information on judges with the Registry. The information about declaration of assets by judges is personally kept with the Chief Justice of India and the [High Court] Chief Justices. The public will have a right to know these details if there is a legislative mandate. But at present there is no such legislation.
We don’t share most of the information, whether it is related to appointments or declaration of assets, with the Registry as we want to maintain strict confidentiality. We don’t agree with the CIC’s order and we may have to file an appeal.
Do you welcome the setting up of an all-India judicial service, like the civil service?
There is one serious problem with an all-India judicial service. Unlike the IAS or the IPS, there is no all-India cadre for subordinate judges. There can be an all-India examination and candidates can opt for the State of their choice. This much is possible to attract talent to the judiciary.
Is there a proposal for a new pay panel for judicial officers?
In the judges’ case, the Centre and the States are parties. We want to take their consent and I hope they will consider a second pay commission for judicial officers.
What are your comments on making Hindi, Tamil or other regional languages court language? The Tamil Nadu Assembly passed a resolution…
In the district courts there is no problem in arguing in Tamil or Hindi. In the High Court, the Chief Justice is from a different State. If it is the Madras High Court, if it is in Tamil, then all documents are to be translated when it comes to the Supreme Court. We follow the English system in all High Courts, all textbooks are in English. I feel it will be difficult to implement. The present system is working well. We can love our language and extend it in cultural areas.
Do we need tougher laws to tackle terrorism?
I have not studied the recent law. A terrorist act is done in a clandestine manner and it will be difficult to gather evidence. Terrorists are powerful people and witnesses are afraid to give evidence. Strict laws may be necessary. While implementing them, they should see that the police or the investigators do not misuse it.
There has been a debate on providing legal aid to Ajmal Kasab, one of the terrorists in the Mumbai attacks, caught alive.
Under our system the accused should be provided the aid of counsel. If not, the court has to engage counsel at the expense of the state. Fairness demands that whatever may be the heinous crime he has committed, whether he is a Pakistani or a foreigner, he is entitled to get legal aid.
What is your perception at the end of two years?
That is for you people to say. I hope that I have done reasonably well in the matter of appointments and in other areas. I have got satisfaction, I am getting good support from my colleagues and the collegium. I will continue to do what I want to do.