CALCUTTA HIGH Court judge Justice C S Karnan showed up before the Supreme Court on Friday after avoiding appearance twice. The court gave him four weeks to ponder over his conduct and respond to a showcause notice of contempt of court for writing letters, in which he had levelled corruption charges against several serving and retired SC and high court judges. A seven-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar, however, shot down Justice Karnan’s plea to restore his administrative and judicial powers. This prompted Justice Karnan to respond: “This court may record I will not appear on the next date of hearing. My lords can have me arrested and put me in jail today itself.” Justice Karnan was appearing pursuant to a bailable warrant issued against him on March 10 after he failed to appear before the bench.
When the hearing on Friday began, the bench — also comprising Justices Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, P C Ghose and Kurian Joseph — asked Justice Karnan whether he was willing to tender an unconditional apology and withdraw his allegations against various judges. Since Justice Karnan was not forthright in his response, the bench suggested to him to take time and legal assistance in responding to the question. Justice Chelameswar suggested he to take the help of a lawyer before making any statement. Justice Misra pointed out that the March 25 letter by Justice Karnan talked about unconditional apology and that the case would take a “different turn” if he wanted to tender an apology. But Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said Justice Karnan’s letter did not demonstrate any remorse and disagreed with the CJI that it could be a case of “non-comprehension”. He added the reputation of the judiciary and several judges of Madras High Court, where Justice Karnan was posted in his previous stint, were “damned” by his letters and therefore, the bench should proceed with the contempt matter in accordance with the law.
Justice Karnan, in his response, alleged discrimination and “social boycott” by companion judges on various grounds, including his caste, and said even the Supreme Court issued the contempt notice and took away his administrative and judicial rights without hearing him. “I made complaints to the Chief Justice of India and the Prime Minister. A suo motu contempt proceeding was initiated against me. Before hearing me, my work was withdrawn. My dignity has been hurt in the eyes of the general public. I am also holding a constitutional position. Do I have any respect, or dignity?” he asked.
He asked whether he was a “terrorist or an anti-social element” that the police officers had to enter his office to serve the bailable warrant when he is a sitting judge holding a constitutional office. “The insult is not only to me, but to the entire judiciary,” he said. To this, the CJI said that Justice Karnan had not appeared despite summons and notices and that being a judge, he was supposed to be aware of the consequences for not complying with the summons of the SC. “When we had issued notice to you, it was served. You did not enter appearance. It is a normal procedure. You did not appear that’s why bailable warrant was issued. We are not saying you are an accused. Despite being a judge and understanding all the consequences, you did not appear,” Justice Khehar said.
The CJI also asked the HC judge whether he was willing to give a medical certificate regarding his mental condition but Justice Karnan said he was alright and would become normal when his administrative and judicial work were restored. This plea was turned down by the bench.