Even as the President on Wednesday appointed former Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam as the Governor of Kerala, many jurists, including a former CJI, opposed the decision. However, Sathasivam defended his decision to accept the post, saying he saw “nothing wrong”.
Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone from his native village in Erode district of Tamil Nadu, Sathasivam said, “Since my retirement (on April 26), I have not accepted any arbitration or done any consultation work for corporates as some other former CJIs are doing. I have stayed in my village to tend to my small farm. I didn’t lobby for the post. There is nothing wrong in accepting it.”
Sathasivam, who is set to take oath on September 5, said even at the time of his retirement, he had stated that he would accept any position befitting his stature. “Any job that is offered to a retired CJI must be befitting the post of CJI. If such a thing is offered, I can consider,” he had told The Indian Express after his retirement.
Asked to comment on the Congress’s allegation that he was being rewarded for “pleasing” Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, Sathasivam said, “When we dealt with the case (FIR against Shah in the Tulsiram Prajapati case), nobody knew that he (Shah) would become BJP president. We did not give him a clean chit in the case. In fact, I shifted the Sohrabuddin case to Maharashtra. It is wrong if such an allegation is levelled against a former CJI.”
Objecting to Sathasivam’s appointment, former CJI V N Khare said, “There is no precedent to this. No former CJI has ever been offered or accepted this post. If you create a precedent it may be followed. But if such a precedent is allowed to prevail, then this may open up more political intervention in the coming years.”
Asked if he would advise Sathasivam against accepting the post, Khare said, “Why should I advise him? It depends on an individual’s viewpoint. What I can say is that I would not have accepted such a post. I was never offered and would not have taken it either.” He said a former CJI accepting such a post could lead to questions about his earlier judgements.
Former Supreme Court Judge K T Thomas said this could erode the public’s confidence in the judiciary. “To sustain public confidence, at least a quarantine period of two years should be there,” he said, adding that if such a post was offered to him, he would not accept it. “But this is my personal view. Any appointment should be commensurate with the work the Judge had done in the Supreme Court or High Court,” he said.
Eminent jurist Fali S Nariman criticised Sathasivam’s willingness to take up the gubernatorial position, calling it “most improper and unfortunate”. “I do not appreciate or approve of the idea of a former CJI, or a Judge of the Supreme Court, accepting a sinecure appointment, like that of a Governor,” he said.
“Judges seeking jobs or a seat in Parliament from the Executive gravely affects the concept of independence of the judiciary, proudly and repeatedly proclaimed — alas only by sitting Judges of the Supreme Court — as a basic feature of the Constitution,” he said.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said Sathasivam’s appointment would be “politically corrupt” if he had sought this favour during his tenure as CJI. “If he asked for this position while being a CJI, it is venal, and if he did so after his retirement, it is still very improper. An inquiry is to be made if had solicited this favour,” Dhavan said.
Former Law Minister and senior advocate Salman Khurshid said Sathasivam should reflect on the correctness of the decision. “He should think it over… if he wants to take on the hurly burly of politics, especially in the prevailing political atmosphere and the ongoing controversies,” Khurshid said.