When the declaration by members of Parliament about their assets is only a decade old, the delay by the judges in doing so is not unpardonable. Yet, what is irritating is their nonchalant attitude. They should have been the first to disclose their assets because a Solomon, famous for wisdom, cannot hesitate to disclose his wealth. Income-tax officers know, but the people do not. Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan's assertion that judges are "not bound to disclose their assets to the public" suggests that they are dragging their feet. At a time when the impression is that the judiciary has many black sheep, the Chief Justice of India is not sending a right message to the nation. As far back as on May 7, 1997 the full bench of the Supreme Court passed a unanimous resolution to ask the judges to submit a statement of their assets to the Chief Justice of India. Surely, the purport of the resolution could not have been to make the statement a secret document. Former Chief Justice J S Verma who was on the bench when the resolution was passed has said that it was not designed to keep the declarations of assets away from "the public gaze." Chief Justice Balakrishnan still insists that his opposition to make the declaration of assets public is according to the Supreme Court resolution. Verma differs with him. Who out of the two is right can be verified only when the resolution is published. But the assumption is that the judges are willing to give a list of assets to the chief justice. They should have no objection if it is shared with the public because they have nothing to hide. Nonetheless, the resolution should be released because the two chief justices, one serving and the other retired, have differed on what the resolution says. At stake is something more than the mere declaration: the trust. There is nothing to stop the government from having legislation to make it obligatory for the judges to declare their assets. Yet, when MPs are doing it voluntarily, why not the Supreme Court and the High Court judges? The district judges are already following the practice. This practically covers the entire judiciary. In any case, the whole matter is now in the public domain. An order issued by the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) says that under the Right to Information Act, the judges have to make their assets public. The Supreme Court has appealed against the order in the Delhi High Court which has stayed the implementation of the CIC order. The court must take up the case quickly. Indeed, the chief justice has created an embarrassing situation. Yet he is the one who has allowed UP police to pursue the case in which they have identified 34 sitting judges, including one in the Supreme Court judge and 10 High Court judges, allegedly involved in embezzlement. Chief Justice Balakrishanan has also written to High Court chief justices to force subordinate court judges with doubtful integrity to take voluntarily retirement. Why should he make a song and dance about the disclosure of assets? Chief Justice Balakrishnan should realise that the judges became suspects in the eyes of the public when former Chief Justice Bharucha said that 20 percent of the judiciary was corrupt. He neither elucidated his statement nor did he follow it up with the government with any concrete evidence. In fact, an advocate from Rajasthan, the state where Bharucha made the statement, wrote to Bharucha to give the details of his charge, which the advocate said, would help him to take up the matter with the Rajasthan High Court. Bharucha did not acknowledge the letter. Justice Verma picked up the thread by writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting him to "devise a suitable procedure with legal sanction, without any further delay, to provide for such situations." This was more than two years ago. The prime minister did not reply. However, the Law Ministry introduced in Parliament in 2007 a bill to empower a judicial forum to deal with complaints against judges. Apparently, it was only an effort to pacify the public which demanded that the judges be made accountable. Nothing came out of the exercise. Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee turned out to be correct. He had said that if the government had been serious, it would have issued an ordinance to give powers to a judicial forum to look into the allegation of corruption against the judges. The government's intention is clear from its statement on the complaint made against retired Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal, who while in office sealed certain properties in Delhi that benefited his sons in real estate business. The Law Ministry said that the Judges (Protection) Act barred courts from entertaining any civil or criminal proceedings against a sitting or retired judge "for any act, thing or word committed or spoken by him or in the course of acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official or judicial duty or functioning." I wonder if the chapter and verse quoted by the ministry was germane to the case. The act protected a judge against litigants feeling aggrieved over the verdict. The act did not cover the allegations made against the judge. It is not understandable why the ministry entertained the complaint in the first instance. Chief Justice Balakrishnan has said in public that no probe, much less action, can take place against the High Court and Supreme Court judges without prior permission of the chief justice. However, this does not in any way lessen the gravity of charges made. It only adds to suspicion. I wish Sabharwal would volunteer a probe. Since his involvement continues to be the talk of the town he should write to the Chief Justice of India to examine the charges. Without an inquiry the odium of suspicion will not go away. By keeping quiet or by ignoring the whole thing, the government does not help Sabharwal. The matter will keep surfacing in one form or the other in the days to come. The writer is a former member of the Indian Parliament and senior journalist E-mail: knayar@nation.com.pk