Even as the storm over allegations by former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju that former Chief Justice of India R C Lahoti had granted extension to an additional judge of Madras High Court at the instance of previous UPA government refuses to die down, the family of the judge in question — Justice S Ashok Kumar — on Tuesday expressed dismay over the controversy.
“In our culture, we never talk ill of the dead. How can anybody talk ill about a person who died almost five years ago and hence is not able to defend his honour?” asked Ebi Ashok Kumar, widow of Justice Kumar, when reached by The Indian Express for her comments on the controversy.
“I am very pained. My husband is not there to defend himself,” she said. Justice Kumar passed away in October 2009.
In a blog post on July 20, Katju, currently chairperson of the Press Council of India, alleged that three Supreme Court Chief Justices had bent over backwards — at the behest of an ally of the then UPA government — to accommodate a judge in Tamil Nadu against whom there was an “adverse” IB report that he had recommended.
While Katju claimed that the “corrupt” judge had been allowed to continue in office under political pressure, a charge denied by former CJI R C Lahoti as well as then Law Minister H R Bhardwaj, he didn’t reveal the allegations against Kumar.
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Meanwhile, the former judge’s action drew strong criticism from legal luminaries, particularly former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, who came down heavily on Katju for making the allegations after so many years.
“It is very unbecoming of an ex-SC judge to raise this now. By questioning the former Chief Justices, you are bringing down the institution. If he (Katju) says he was performing his duty, it was not his duty as the Chairman of the Press Council, but if he says that as a citizen it was his duty then why did he not perform it earlier? He has acted in a very rash manner. A manner which is very unbecoming of a former SC judge to level allegations against former Chief Justices,” Sorabjee said.
The eminent lawyer said he found it strange that Katju had spoken out now, especially when the judge in question had passed away many years ago. “Strange that a judge who himself was a beneficiary of collegium system under CJI Y K Sabharwal should now bitterly complain against it. He (Katju) said better late than never but it should be earlier the better,” Sorabjee added.
However, the former SC judge upped the ante by posing six questions to former CJI Lahoti on his blog. Among the questions that Katju asked him was whether, after receiving the adverse IB report against the additional judge, Lahoti, who was then CJI, had called a meeting of the collegium and recommended to the Government of India not to extend the two-year-term of the judge. He also asked Lahoti if, after the recommendation of the collegium was sent to the Government of India, he (Lahoti), on his own, without consulting the other two collegium members, wrote a letter to the Government of India asking the Government to give another one-year term as Additional Judge to the concerned Judge.