Press Council of India chairman and former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju alleged that three Supreme Court Chief Justices 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 (Katju) had recommended.
The subject of Katju’s complaint was the very basis of a PIL filed against the appointment of that judge as permanent judge decided by the Supreme Court in December 2008. The court criticised the process of his appointment but refrained from calling for any action.
That judge, S Ashok Kumar, passed away in October 2009, three months after his retirement.
Katju — less than three months away from the end of his Press Council term — claimed that in August 2005, ex-CJI R C Lahoti granted a one-year extension to Kumar as additional Judge of Madras High Court. Among other allegations against Kumar was that he was “close” to DMK leaders and had granted bail to an important DMK leader.
Thereafter, the next CJI Y K Sabharwal also extended his tenure, once again as additional judge, with his successor K G Balakrishnan finally deciding to make him a permanent judge in February 2007 and transferring him to Andhra Pradesh High Court in March 2008.
In December 2008, an apex court bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and Mukundkam Sharma, hearing a PIL filed by former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan and advocate Kamini Jaiswal challenging Kumar’s appointment as a permanent judge of the Madras HC, refused to grant any relief sought by the petitioners.
The bench criticised Lahoti’s move to extend Kumar’s term despite the fact that the collegium headed by him had on April 29, 2005, decided that Kumar couldn’t be recommended along with another judge for confirmation as permanent judge.
The bench observed: “A person who is not suitable to be appointed as a permanent Judge on the ground of unsuitability due to adverse factors on account of mental and physical capacity, adverse materials relating to character and integrity and other relevant matters, which are so paramount and sacrosanct for the functioning as a Judge, should not (have been) continued as an Additional Judge”.
Referring to the action of the then CJI (Lahoti) in ordering an IB inquiry against a sitting judge (on the recommendation of Katju), the Bench expressed reservations.
It cited a previous judgment to argue that using an “investigative agency under the control of a political Government” continued…