New Delhi, Dec. 10: The Supreme Court today stayed a Delhi High Court order that quashed a central circular requiring apex and high court judges to furnish details of planned private visits abroad to the government.
The bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices S.S. Nijjar and J. Chelameshwar stayed the order of May this year spiking certain portions of the circular of February 15, 2011, and modified some parts.
The stay came after additional solicitor-general Paras Kuhad, who represented the Centre, argued that judges, like other constitutional authorities, ought to intimate the government on private foreign visits.
According to the Centre, the judges while enjoying a constitutional status, also owed “consequential obligations” in fulfilling “constitutional proprieties” by disclosing certain details.
The government has clarified that the information sought was not in the form of permission but “mere intimation”. “The hon’ble high court ought to have appreciated that this was not an issue pertaining to the independence of the judiciary but to certain constitutional proprieties which have to be maintained,” Kuhad said.
In other words, the Centre contended that when other dignitaries like the President, the Prime Minister and ministers send intimations about foreign visits, there was nothing wrong in judges doing so.
In its May 25 judgment on a PIL filed by a lawyer, the high court had modified two provisions of the circular and quashed two.
Among those modified was Para 8 (a) of the circular, which required proposals for such visits to be sent for approval through the chief justice of the concerned high court. It would have to be routed through the Chief Justice of India for apex court judges.
Another clause made it a must for a copy of the communication to be sent to the Union ministry of law and justice.
Of the two sections spiked, one mandated that the intimation must reach the department of justice at least 15 days prior to the commencement of the visit.
The other sought details of the purpose of visits, duration, whether accompanied by spouse, source of funding and information on foreign tours undertaken in the past three years if an official tour is clubbed with a private visit.
The high court had rejected this clause saying: “Indisputably the language used is inappropriate and treats as if the judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court hold office at the pleasure of the President.”
It ruled that judges need to give only prior intimation to the high commission of the country the judge proposed to visit, apart from the Chief Justice.
“We find no objection in judges not accepting hospitality from a foreign government organisation when on a private visit and, if they intend to do so, to obtain FCRA (forex) clearance. But for a courtesy visit to meet a judge or to see the working of a court or visit a place in a foreign country where protocol assistance would be necessary, it would be permissible for a judge to seek the necessary courtesy,” the high court had said.