6 May 2008, 0229 hrs IST,Dhananjay Mahapatra,TNN
NEW DELHI: "I am a public servant," declared Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishanan settling the dust that had arisen over whether or not judges of the Supreme Court and high courts were public servants or not.
His remarks at the conclusion of the annual conference of Chief Justices of the high courts and the chief ministers had opened a big debate over the status of the judges of the higher and superior judiciary.
The clarification from the CJI came on the day when the judiciary took the historic first step to allow TV cameras to videograph the “people's court” proceedings held inside the SC's court rooms, which are always out of bound for cameras.
Speaking to The Times of India, Justice Balakrishnan laughed away the question whether judges of the SC and the HCs were public servants or not.
“How can any judge argue that he is not a public servant?” he counter questioned. It is a well settled position of law, as laid down in the five-judge constitution bench judgment of the Supreme Court in the Veeraswamy case, that judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court were public servants, he said.
Read the related stories
In the name of the law
Tuesday, May 06, 2008 20:47 IST
The right to information is universal and judges cannot be exempt from public scrutiny
The citizen is understandably disturbed when he sees conflict between the judiciary and Parliament or the government. The latest in the recent series is particularly worrisome. It affects the people’s right to know, embodied in the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan told the media on April 19 that the “CJI is not a public servant in the strict sense. He is a constitutional functionary and constitutional authorities are not covered under the RTI.” A fortnight later, on May 5, he accepted that the CJI is indeed a public servant, but argued that he is not a public authority under the RTI. He overlooked, however, that if India’s lawmakers considered judges as public servants for over a century, they would not conceivably have excluded them from the category of public authority in this day and age. The record establishes that.
To begin with, one of the most important and oldest laws, the Indian Penal Code of 1860 says, in section 21, that the words ‘public servant’ include every judge. For good measure, it adds an explanation which clarifies that the persons it lists ‘are public servants, whether appointed by the government or not’.
Around Independence, the Prevention of Corruption act, 1947, took over the IPC’s definition of ‘public servant’. The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, likewise defines him to include ‘any judge’. The Supreme Court endorsed this in 1991 in the case of the former chief justice of the Madras High Court, K Veeraswami. It categorically rejected his plea that judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are not within the purview of the Prevention of Corruption act.
Read the related Article in THE HINDU