Millions spent on flying Supreme Court judges abroad

December 4th, 2008 - 3:43 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 4 (IANS) The high priests of India’s highest judiciary appear to have a fondness for flying high, suggests a Supreme Court account of foreign jaunts undertaken by its judges.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.

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