NEW DELHI, 22 July-2014, TNN: Former Supreme Court judge Justice Markandey Katju’s claim that an allegedly corrupt judge of Madras high court was allowed to continue because of pressure brought on three chief justices of India by the UPA government snowballed into a full-scale controversy on Monday with members in both Houses of Parliament demanding a probe and the retired judge being questioned on the timing of his revelation.
Justice Katju, now Press Council of India chairman, had written in TOI that a district judge was elevated to the Madras HC as additional judge despite several “adverse entries” against him because he enjoyed the backing of a regional party then supporting the UPA, an allusion to DMK. The judge was granted extensions, despite an adverse IB report and, more importantly, disinclination of the SC collegium, and later made a permanent judge.
The issue found a loud echo in Parliament with the upper House being adjourned twice as AIADMK members waved copies of TOI and demanded a probe. Members also wanted to discuss “political interference in judicial appointments” in light of Justice Katju’s revelation.
V Maitreyan of AIADMK wanted to know if former PM Manmohan Singh, who was seated in the House, was aware of the allegation and if his ally DMK had put pressure on his government to elevate the judge.
When contacted for a reaction later, Singh said he had nothing to say as former law minister H R Bhardwaj had already clarified the issue.
Bhardwaj, who was law minister when the events unfolded, confirmed Justice Katju’s claims to a TV channel and said, “Around 18 SC/ST MPs met me in 2004 and complained of injustice to the additional judge.
However, Bhardwaj denied Justice Katju’s claim that the UPA caved in to pressure from the ally. “So far as political threats to a coalition government is concerned, there were always pressure (from allies) on appointment of judges to which I never yielded,” he said.
However, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi stressed that the retired SC judge, as chief justice of Madras HC, kept forwarding cases to the same additional judge whom he has accused of corruption. “The fact of the matter is that he has no problem in letting cases be adjudicated by a person whom he has accused of corruption,” Kanimozhi, a member of Rajya Sabha, said.
The PCI chairman found himself facing questions on the timing of his disclosure and why he had waited for 10 years to go public. Repeatedly pressed for an answer by a TV channel, a miffed Katju stormed out of an interview. Before walking off, he said, “Three CJIs made improper compromises.”. “You should ask them what wrong they did. Is the CJI going to surrender to political pressure. That’s the question,” he told the channel.
Lahoti denies any wrongdoing
Former CJI RC Lahoti, who approved an extension to the judge, denied that there was any wrongdoing on his part. “Everything is a matter of record. I have never done anything wrong in my life,” he added. The judge was given a subsequent extension by CJI YK Sabharwal before being confirmed as a permanent judge by CJI KG Balakrishnan, now chairman of National Human Rights Commission.
Justice Balakrishnan said the appointment was made after scrupulously following the established procedure and denied any political pressure.
He said if Justice Katju was aware of irregularities, he should have taken steps for impeachment of the judge. “The judge has passed away since and to speak ill of him now is unfortunate,” he added.
In Lok Sabha, AIADMK MP M Thambidurai raised the issue as the House met for the day demanding that question hour be suspended to discuss the matter. He was denied permission by the Speaker.
Speaking during zero hour, Thambidurai said independence of the judiciary had been brought into question. Seeking a response from the law minister, he said, “Who was this DMK minister? Why was the previous government pressurized? The government must probe this matter.”
AIADMK members rose in their seats to protest against the lack of response from the government. Responding to the allegations, Congress leader Amarinder Singh raised a point of order saying the Constitution did not allow discussion on a Supreme Court judge in Parliament which was rejected by the Speaker.