The Supreme Court on Monday pushed National Human Rights Commission chairman and former Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan into a corner by asking for details of the income tax inquiry into alleged amassment of unaccounted assets by him and his relatives during 2007-2010, when he headed the judiciary.
Though a bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justice Swatanter Kumar did not seek a formal response from the government on a PIL filed by NGO 'Common Cause' seeking removal of Justice Balakrishnan as NHRC chief, it asked attorney general G E Vahanvati to give details of every inquiry that had been conducted by the government into corruption charges alleged against the former CJI.
"There was some inquiry by the Central Board of Direct Taxes. What happened to that? What is the status of property and assets? The AG will tell us exactly what is the situation and what the government intends to do as well as the next step the government intends to take," the bench said after hearing arguments from NGO's counsel Prashant Bhushan.
Another petition by advocate M L Sharma, who eight months ago had sought a judicial inquiry into the alleged corrupt deals of the former CJI, was also taken up for hearing.
Although the bench said that it would not direct the government to approach the President for Justice Balakrishnan's removal as the chief of the human rights panel, its seeking information about the investigations into the conduct of the ex-CJI is unusual. The political class, which has smarted under the judiciary goading a reluctant executive to act against corruption, has often accused the judiciary of double standards and of sweeping charges against brother judges under the carpet.
Responding to Bhushan's plea for a reference to the President for Justice Balakrishnan's removal from the NHRC, the bench said, "It is for the President to decide whether to make a reference or not. We will not entertain that plea. We just want to be clear about the facts."
Bhushan said the government must send a reference to the Supreme Court for initiating an inquiry into the 'proven misconduct' on the part of the former CJI and take steps to remove him from the post of NHRC chairman if the apex court gave an opinion confirming the allegations.
The government, for its part, promised to be forthright in revealing details of every inquiry that was conducted with regard to Justice Balakrishnan. Vahanvati said, "I will place everything before the court. I will write to all concerned authorities and place their versions before the court." He sought time till March 12 to compile the information.
The court asked Bhushan whether he had any authentic data about the alleged properties acquired by Justice Balakrishnan, his brother and family members.
The counsel said data about assets and properties worth Rs 40 crore acquired by the former CJI and his relatives was based on information received through local sources. He also said he had no information about properties held in Justice Balakrishnan's name.
On Sharma's plea to make Kerala and Tamil Nadu parties to his petition to get details of land purchases allegedly made by the former CJI and his kin, the court had on October 21 last year issued notices to the state governments.
Justice Balakrishnan retired on May 11, 2010 and was appointed NHRC chief on June 8, 2010. Days before his retirement as CJI, Delhi-based Mohd Furqan had levelled corruption charges against him in a complaint to the vice-president on May 4, 2010. The complaint was forwarded to anti-corruption branch of CBI in Kochi.
On February 18 last year, the SC had asked about the status of the CBI probe. But during the subsequent two hearings on March 4 and April 8, it had not inquired about the issue from the AG, whose assistance was sought by the bench.
Justice Balakrishnan had rejected the allegations and said his relatives facing charges of disproportionate assets were answerable to the statutory machinery dealing with the cases.