Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, currently Chairman of Press Council of India, on Monday stirred a controversy by alleging that three ex-Chief Justices of India had compromised in giving extension to an additional judge of Madras High court at the instance of UPA government in the wake of pressure from one of its allies, apparently DMK.
Katju made the charge while alleging how the three former CJIs – Justices R C Lahoti, Y K Sabharwal and K G Balakrishnan – had made “imroper compromises” in allowing the judge, against whom there were several allegations of corruption, to continue in office.
“These three former CJIs made improper compromises. Justice Lahoti who started it, then Justice Sabharwal and then Justice Balakrishnan. These are CJIs who can surrender. Is a CJI going to surrender to political pressure or not going to surrender to political pressure?” Katju, who became the Chief Justice of Madras High Court in November 2004, told NDTV. Katju later became a Supreme Court judge.
Secret IB inquiry
Katju said since he got many reports that the additional judge concerned was allegedly indulging in corruption he had requested the then CJI Lahoti to get a secret IB inquiry made about him.
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He claimed that the IB report found the allegations to be true and he should have been sacked.
Katju said since the two-year term as additional judge of that person was coming to an end he presumed he would be discontinued as judge.
“But to my utter shock I came to know he was been given another extension when an adverse IB report was there,” he said.
Katju said he came to know that the reason for all this was that at that time the UPA-I government was dependent on
allies and one of them was a Tamil Nadu party, an apparent reference to DMK, whose leader was given bail by the additional judge concerned.
Katju said that the additional judge was not a permanent judge and that they he may or may not be confirmed.
“There was no justification for giving him another term of one year and later on Justice Lahoti retired. Justice Sabharwal also I think once or twice gave him terms as additional judge and then he also retired. Justice Balakrishnan made this judge permanent judge although he tranferred him to another High Court,” he said.
The leader of the Tamil Nadu party was a solid supporter of the additional judge who had given him bail, he said.
Katju said the matter had come to a three-judge collegium of the apex court of which Lahoti and Sabharwal were among the members and it was recommended that the district judge should not be continued in office.
He said on coming to know of the recommendation of collegium the Tamil Nadu-based party reportedly objected to it.
Katju said the information he got was that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was at that time leaving for New York to attend the UN General Assembly session. At the Delhi airport, he was told by ministers of the Tamil Nadu party that by the time he returned from New York his government would have fallen as their party would withdraw support to the UPA (for not continuing that additional judge). Katju, however, said he had no personal knowledge about this.
The UPA government was at the Centre at that time and Congress was the largest party in this alliance but it did not have a majority in Lok Sabha, and was dependent on the support of its allies.
Katju said one such ally was the party in Tamil Nadu which was backing this “corrupt judge”. Katju said the reports he had was that Singh panicked, but he was told by a senior Congress minister not to worry, and that he would manage everything.
That minister then went to Justice Lahoti and told him there would be a “crisis” if that additional judge was discontinued, he said.
On hearing this, Justice Lahoti sent a letter to the Government of India to give another term of one year as additional judge to that “corrupt judge”, he claimed.
Katju wondered whether Justice Lahoti consulted his two Supreme Court collegium members and concluded it was in these
circumstances this “corrupt” judge was given another one-year term.
Asked why he was making this disclosure now, Katju said the timing was “immaterial” and that instead the matter should be investigated to find out whether what he was saying was correct or not.
Uproar in Rajya Sabha
AIADMK today forced adjournment of the Rajya Sabha twice during Question Hour over Katju’s reported allegations. Ruckus created by AIADMK members seeking suspension of Question Hour to discuss the issue of “political interference in judicial appointments” led to the House first being adjourned for 10 minutes and then till 1200 hours.
No sooner had Ronald Sapa Tlau, the newly-elected member from Mizoram, taken oath, AIADMK members were up on their feet
displaying copies of a newspaper that carried an article by Press Council of India Chairman Katju on the appointment.
“You will not show newspaper here, Dr Maitreyan,” Chairman Hamid Ansari said referring to AIADMK leader who wanted the Question Hour to be suspended to discuss the issue. V Maitreyan said this was an important issue.
“You can’t do this… nobody is listening to you,” Ansari said as AIADMK members moved into aisle raising solgans. He then adjourned the House for 10 minutes.
When the House reassembled, similar scenes were witnessed with AIADMK members insisting on suspension of Question Hour.