Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Another cockroach in cabinet – judiciary having control of public funds

Justice Shylendra Kumar of Karnataka HC recently posted a new entry on his blog as given below.

What was a new revelation was about the extent of funds available (Rs 13 Crore) to judiciary at their discretion, under aegis of Karnataka State Legal Services Authority, and the disclosure by Justice Kumar that he himself had to wait for 3-4 months to get information related to certain expenditures under category of ‘hospitality expenditures’  from the Karnataka high court registry!

Here is information about what Legal Services Authority is all about from their website here:

The Legal Services Act 1987 is basically aimed to provide free and competent legal Service to the weaker sections of the society to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities, and to organize Lok Adalats to secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.

Creating Legal awareness, Legal Aid and Settlement of disputes through amicable settlement are the main functions of the Authority.

Needless to say, it is an authority with mandate of delivering effective justice, and esp to help poor people who may not be able to afford lawyers.

Here are the relevant part of Justice Kumar’s blog post with important points in bold:

Recently, I heard that there were some malpractices, particularly, some illegalities having taken place in the matter of expenditure incurred by the High Court under the head ‘hospitality expenditure’, more so, during the stewardship of Justice P D Dinakaran as Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court.

Being a little disturbed with such development, I had sought for some factual information from the registry and the information which I received has not put me at ease, but on the other hand has put me to great uneasiness and anxiety, particularly about the way and the direction which our High Court is heading.

I am placing the particulars of expenditure incurred as furnished by the registry for the information and perusal of the general public, an information which is otherwise available to you all under the Right to Information Act, and to form your own opinion and of course to react and respond suitably.

Under our constitutional scheme, judiciary does not have financial independence and the expenses in the judiciary is also part of the budgetary proposal and being voted by the State legislatures and the Union in the Parliament and therefore to that extent judiciary was blissfully kept independent of any financial responsibilities and the concomitant accountability with regard to expenses.

While that is the scheme under our Constitution, in recent times, with all sorts of additional responsibilities having sprouted on the courts, particularly, at the level of the High Courts and the Supreme Court and the High Courts and the Supreme Court getting more and more active on the administrative side, have been privy to considerable extent of State funds and whom the amount is being spent at the sole discretion of the Members of the Judiciary.

The checks and balances which are available under the Constitutional scheme and the statutory scheme in respect of any State expenditure, particularly, the scrutiny by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India under Article 148 of the Constitution of India is not fully or strictly applied in respect of expenditure incurred by the Judiciary in respect of funds which are available at the disposal of the Judiciary wherein the discretion of the Chief Justices matters. The State making available vast funds as part of the services made available to the general public under the Karnataka State Legal Services Authorities Rules, 1996 and being at the sole discretion of the Executive Chairman who is a Member of the Judiciary and Judge in the High Court, while has given considerable financial independence and capability to the Judge heading this Authority, the manner of utilization/application of such large amount has come in for criticism and over a period of time, the public opinion is that Judges are most ill suited to occupy the position of a Executive Chairman of the Legal Services Authority and it should be looked after by other persons who do not have the onerous judicial responsibilities to discharge.

Well, opinions may differ, but the fact remains that Judges becoming privy to large or vast amounts has not been a healthy trend if one should look at the developments during the past two decades and it certainly calls for a debate, a rethinking and suitable changes if so felt and warranted.

I learnt that Karnataka State Legal Services Authority had received not less than Rupees Thirteen Crores for its annual expenses during the year 2009-10 and I was not very happy with the manner of the funds allocated to expenditure of this Authority and I had called for information about the same when I was serving at the Circuit Bench of the High Court at Gulbarga during November-December 2009.

It took more than three to four months for the Member Secretary of the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority to part with this information even to a Judge of the High Court and it is only with some pressure and threats I was able to get the information. This again is not a very healthy development, particularly, if persons who are entrusted with public funds are asked for accounting the same, it should be available at a minute’s notice and at fingertips, and not furnished after three months like some Judges, declaring the particulars of their assets and liabilities!.

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