Are judges holidaying at public expense?
Reported by Meetu Jain / CNN-IBN on Tue, May 20, 2008 at 20:09, in Nation section
BENDING RULES? An RTI application shows how judges have gone for
holidays at government expense.
New Delhi: The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, KG Balakrishnan,
wants judges to be kept out of the purview of the Right To Information
Now an RTI application put in by CNN-IBN has thrown up interesting
details of how judges have been traveling abroad, often for personal
holidays at government expense.
Ironically the urge to travel starts at the top. Balakrishnan, after
taking over as Chief Justice, made at least seven trips abroad in 2007
traveling First Class with his wife with the air fare alone costing
over Rs 39 lakh.
For instance, during his 11-day trip to Pretoria, South Africa in
August 2007, the Chief Justice took the following route - Delhi,
Dubai, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Capetown, Johannesburg, Victoria
Falls, where the judge finally didn't go and returned via Dubai to
The air fare alone cost Rs 5.70 lakh and did not include the stay, TA,
DA or Entertainment Allowance. Entertainment Allowance itself was over
Government rules permit travel only by the shortest route, yet the
Prime Ministers Office, which sanctions these trips, did not ask why
the Chief Justice wanted to go to tourist destinations like Nelspruit,
Capetown or Victoria Falls.
Union Law Minister HR Bhardwaj says, " They also need comfort, they
also need to go out. Why they should be deprived of it.''
And what about government rules that say judges cannot be accompanied
by wives on work tours?
"How can you deprive the wife? You are a woman. You should
understand," Bhardwaj tells the CNN-IBN correspondent.
Former chief justice YK Sabharwal's foreign travel was no different.
The judge attended three conferences in 2005 to Edinburgh, Washington
While the conferences lasted 11 days, Sabharwal was out for 38 days
with 21 days converted into a private visit.
The travel plan includes a detour from Washington to Baltimore,
Orlando and Atlanta, before rejoining the conference route in Paris.
The First Class air fare for Sabharwal entire trip was paid by the
The other judges too have traveled abroad costing the exchequer huge
sums of money. Supreme Court judges Justices PP Naolekar and AK Mathur
could not find a direct flight to Bangkok in November 2007.
New Delhi: CNN-IBN's exclusive report on some judges using official trips to holiday, has sparked off the debate - should judges be above the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act?
RTI activists say there is every reason why the RTI Act should apply to the higher judiciary as well.
Questions are now being asked in South Block, too, following the expose on Supreme Court judges.
Records obtained under the RTI shows judges have been converting work trips to holidays, taking long detours and are accompanied by their wives while traveling abroad.
At present there are no travel guidelines for the judiciary and the Bar Council of India is suggesting a course correction.
"I think the judges must pay or should pay the amount to the government," Bar Council of India Chairman SNP Sinha said in Patna on Wednesday.
Under the RTI, CNN-IBN found that for Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan's 11-day trip to Pretoria, South Africa in August 2007 the route was - Delhi, Dubai, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Capetown, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls, where the judge finally didn't go and back to Delhi via Dubai.
Former chief justice YK Sabharwal attended three conferences in 2005 to Edinburgh, Washington and Paris. While the conferences lasted 11 days, Sabharwal was out for 38 days with 21 days converted into a private visit.
The travel plan included a detour from Washington to Baltimore, Orlando and Atlanta, before rejoining the conference route in Paris.
The First Class air fare for Sabharwal's entire trip was paid by the government.
Activists are now renewing the debate on the RTI act applying to judges as well
RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal said: "It only underscores why the RTI needs to be applied to judges and judiciary."
Just like Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion, RTI activists are demanding that SC judges too should be seen to be accountable.
Judges' wings clipped, diktat curbs undue travel abroad
as reported by Meetu Jain / CNN-IBN Oct 24, 2008
ORDER ORDER: PMO has now routinely begun to question the need for travel by SC and HC judges
New Delhi: CNN-IBN's expose on judges who used foreign trips for extended holidays has had the desired impact.
The expose forced the government to sit up and not just take note but also to act on the issue. Fresh guidelines from the government are now being put in place to curb the judges' foreign travels by 30 per cent.
Previously, judges would travel abroad for days together even while courts were in session. Most of them would travel with invites from private organisations. Following a CNN-IBN expose on how judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts were holidaying abroad at the tax payers' expense, the government is now preparing fresh guidelines.
Union Law Minister, H R Bhardwaj said, "There was a lot of undue criticism so we made the rules that they should travel only when necessary and should do so only when the court is not in session."
Following the CNN-IBN report in May this year, officials admit that foreign visits by judges have been curtailed by a third. Moving away from past practice, the prime minister's office is refusing permission to a number of such requests.
The fresh guidelines dictate that:
Judges should avoid travelling abroad when courts are in session.
For high courts, if the trip is necessary, only one judge should represent the court.
Invitations by non governmental institutes should be politely refused.
But some Members of the Parliament do not want to annoy the judiciary and endorse their need to travel abroad at will.
"Foreign travel is also necessary for the judges. It is important that our judges be exposed to the judiary proceedings, develoments abroad," said BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley.
A Right to Information (RTI) query had shown how judges were holidaying abroad with their wives in tow. Former chief justice Y K Sabharwal for instance, had extended his 11-day working-trip to 38 days, converting 21 days into a private visit.
The reason why the executive is sitting in judgment over the judiciary, goes a little beyond austerity measures. The images of judges have come in for a lot of criticism, especially from the media and now the government feels that its perhaps time to read out the riot act to the judges.
Mr S.C. Agrawal of New Dlhi filed 3 RTI applications with the PMO, Dept. of Law and Justice and the Supreme Court to find out if:
1. The CNN IBN report was true and the facts given therein were correct.
2. What were the rules governing foreign travel by the Supreme Court Judges ?
If shortest route was to be taken ? If wives of Hon'ble judges were allowed to accompany the Judges ?
3. If any rules have been violated.
PMO transferred the application to Dept. of Law and Justice as did the PIO of Supreme Court. The PIO of the Dept. of Law and Justice sent all the applications to the Supreme Court which in turn sent them back. The applications bounced around all the 3 PA's and finally the applicant complained to the CIC.
PIO of Dept. of Law and Justice did not attend the hearing and just sent a note that they did not have nothing to do with the matter and had nothing to add further.
CIC concluded that both the PMO and Supreme Court are stating that the Dept. of Law and Justice is the custodian of information sought and has sent the matter back asking for information to be disclosed.
CIC asks Justice Dept to respond to fund spent on SC judge trips
CIC asks Justice Dept to respond to fund spent on SC judge trips
as reported by Krishnadas Rajagopal in Indian Express Nov 09, 2008
Delhi, November 8 : The Central Information Commission has directed the Department of Justice, Union Law Ministry, to “respond” to a Right to Information query seeking details of public funds spent on official foreign trips of Supreme Court judges.
The recent decision by Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah follows a “war of letters” between the SC and the department on which of them is the public authority concerned to divulge the details sought in the RTI plea.
The applicant, S C Aggarwal, had on May 21, 2008 applied to the PMO, the Department of Justice and the SC, seeking information on the procedure for sanctioning foreign trips of apex court judges.
Specifically, the three-pronged request sought details on the rules, making it mandatory for the judges to opt for the shortest air-routes for official tours abroad, whether their wives were entitled to accompany them and expenses paid by the Government.
Trouble between the Justice Department and the Registry of the apex court started in July 2008 when the former's Central Public Information Officer, K Gurtu, denied having any knowledge of the expense details and pushed the ball into the court of Ashok Kumar, his counterpart in the Supreme Court.
“It would not be correct to say that the expenditure spend on the foreign visits of the Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court would be known to the Department of Justice, as the final figures of amount spent would be known only to the Registry of the Supreme Court of India,” he claimed.
Kumar’s response in the negative fell short with a later letter from S Twickly, Deputy Secretary with the Justice Department and successor of Gurtu, reiterating the point that only the Supreme Court can provide the information sought for.
With hardly any positive developments from the duo's side, Aggarwal went on to file an appeal with the CIC in which he described the flurry of exchange of communications between the apex court and the department as a “war of letters”.
Representing the SC, Additional Solicitor General Amarendra Sharan quoted that the Department is by its own admission the authority concerned to “process and recommend the foreign tours of judges to the Prime Minister” — an opinion seconded by the PMO before the CIC.
“Since both the PMO and Supreme Court are in unison on this point there is a consensus among all the other stakeholders that the Ministry of Law and Justice is the concerned public authority,”observed the Bench.
According to information divulged by the apex court under the Right To Information (RTI) act, present Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan undertook 12 foreign jaunts from 2005 till now, costing the public exchequer a whopping Rs 7.53 million (Rs 75.3 lakh) on airfares alone.
Nine of these trips were taken after he became chief justice in January 2007 and three while he was a Supreme Court judge.
This amount does not take into account other expenses like boarding, the justice department said in its reply to RTI activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya.
"The department has given me the record of last five financial years only of airfares borne by the government. But they have kept mum about other expenditures incurred by the judges during their visits abroad," Bhattacharya said, adding that if the accounts were audited then it should not be difficult to provide details of other expenses as well.
The various countries visited by Balakrishnan as part of his "official duty" are the US, Britain,canada, Hong Kong, France, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, China and the Philippines. He visited Britain four times and Canada twice.
His wife accompanied him nine times in the 12 tours, which sometimes clubbed together two or more countries.
The apex court's detailed account of expenses incurred on the judges' official tours abroad since 2003 reveals that Balakrishnan's foreign jaunts have proved to be the costliest.
The airfares of all the foreign jaunts made by his predecessor Y.K. Sabharwal amounted to Rs.3.65 million (Rs.36 lakh). During his tenure as an apex court judge between January 2000 and October 2005 and later as chief justice of India January 2007, Sabharwal went abroad 10 times.
The chief justice before him, R.C. Lahoti, went abroad six times and the airfares alone cost the exchequer Rs.2.78 million (Rs.27.8 lakh). His wife accompanied him in all his official visits abroad.
Interestingly, not all judges have been so extravagant.
For instance, Justice Dalveer Bhandari's trip to Nepal in March 2006 cost just Rs.11,569.
In an intriguing instance, three judges, including Balakrishnan, gave highly divergent amounts for a single tour to Britain to take part in the seventh Worldwide Common Law Judiciary Conference in London from April 29 to May 3, 2007.
While Balakrishnan was accompanied by his wife and personal secretary, the other two judges, Ashok Bhan and Arijit Pasayat, also took their spouses along.
At the end -- Bhan billed the government Rs.670,976, Pasayat Rs.347,656 and Balakrishnan Rs.430,031.
"I had categorically asked the department to tell me whether taking spouses on official tours on government expense was permitted. However, I got no response on this query," Bhattacharya said.
The government has spent crores of rupees for foreign tours of the Chief Justice of India and other Supreme Court judges in the last five years, it was revealed.
Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan made 12 foreign trips since 2005, costing the public exchequer about Rs 75.3 lakh on airfare. As per the documents received by Dev Ashish Bhattacharya – who had sought information under the Right for Information Act (RTI) – the CJI’s official trips were to the United States, Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, France, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, China and Philippines. He visited Britain four times and Canada twice.
Apart from the expenses on airfare in business class, the government had also spent lakhs on his boarding, food and transport, the Union Law and Justice Ministry said. His wife accompanied him nine times during foreign tours, which sometimes were clubbed together to two or more destinations.
Justice Ashok Bhan (now retired) spent Rs 6,70,976 and Justice Arijit Pasayat spent Rs 347,656 during the period. But Justice Dalveer Bhandari’s trip to Nepal in March 2006 was worth just Rs 11,569.
The expenses incurred by the then Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal, who made more than 10 trips between January 2000 and January 2007, was more than Rs 36 lakh. Another former CJI R C Lahoti went abroad six times and the airfares alone cost the exchequer Rs 27.8 lakh. His wife accompanied him in all his official visits abroad.