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Katju’s complaint: Supreme Court had heard PIL, criticised the process

Timing not relevant... criticism about timing s part of diversionary tactics by those who don’t want truth to come out: Katju

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.  Source: Express Photo 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. Source: Express Photo

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” to probe allegations against a judge “would not be desirable because, apart from exposing the sitting Judge to unhealthy political pressures, it may not yield satisfactory result in all cases.” Moreover, such an investigation would not have the benefit “of the guidance of a mature and experienced person like the Chief Justice.”

The bench referred to the August 3, 2006 decision of then CJI (Y K Sabharwal) — who, when he was part of the collegium along with Lahoti and another judge, had earlier expressed his view about the “unsuitability” of the judge to continue in his post — to extend his term as additional judge for six months.

The Bench also noted that “starting from the point of initial appointment”, successive Chief Justices of the Madras HC had “recommended” that Kumar be made permanent. “That situation continued till 3.2.2007 when the recommendation of the then Chief Justice of the Madras High Court for appointing respondent No 2 (Kumar) as a permanent Judge was accepted,” the judgment notes.

The Bench also noted that “starting from the point of initial appointment”, successive Chief Justices of the Madras HC had “recommended” that Kumar be made permanent. “That situation continued till 3.2.2007 when the recommendation of the then Chief Justice of the Madras High Court for appointing respondent No 2 (Kumar) as a permanent Judge was accepted,” the judgment notes.

Katju, incidentally, was CJ of the Madras HC from November 28, 2004 to October 10, 2005.

When contacted, Katju said he had brought the issue of allegations against Kumar to the notice of CJI Lahoti in writing as well as verbally. Asked why he had chosen to speak out after such a long gap, he said, “Timing is not relevant. I ask everybody to criticise me if I am wrong on fact. The criticism about timing is part of diversionary tactics by those who don’t want truth to come out.”

While former CJI Lahoti was unavailable for his version, former CJI K G Balakrishan said, “No judge can be confirmed without the positive report of the concerned Chief Justice.”

Asked if there was any political pressure to make Kumar permanent, Justice Balakrishnan said: “What pressure if he talking about? There was none. Ask him why he (Katju) is bringing up this issue now, especially since it was decided on the judicial side so many years ago. What is his real purpose?” When contacted, Shanti Bhushan said, “It is good that he (Justice Katju) has raised this issue, The role of the chief justices who granted extensions to the judge and made him permanent needs to be examined. They must tell if they were under pressure from the UPA government?”

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