Controversies and Justice C S Karnan go hand in hand. The judge, who whipped up a storm when he rebelled against the Supreme Court and the judiciary, was released on Wednesday from Kolkata’s Presidency Jail after spending six months behind bars for contempt.
Justice Karnan, who is the first sitting High Court judge to have been sentenced to jail, holds other dubious distinctions. In 2011, he became the first judge of a High Court to move the National Commission for SCs and STs, complaining of harassment by fellow judges.
The judge hit the headlines first when he accused his fellow colleagues in the Madras High Court of caste discrimination since he was a Dalit. He also alleged that a fellow judge ‘deliberately’ touched him with his foot as he was a Dalit. In January 2014, Karnan crashed into another courtroom where a two-judge bench was hearing a PIL on the selection of judges. He then lashed out at the judiciary over unfair and biased appointment of judges and warned of filing an affidavit on the issue before the court.
Such actions on Justice Karnan’s part prompted the Madras High Court to approach the Supreme Court seeking the transfer of the temperamental judge. Then Chief Justice of India CJ Sathasivam ordered the transfer of Karnan to Calcutta High Court. An enraged Karnan then put a stay order on his own transfer order and demanded a response from the CJI.
A bench of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Khehar, then directed the Madras HC to stop assigning cases to Karnan and eventually he had to make his way to the Calcutta HC. However, there was still no stopping the judge and his defiance.
Soon after the demonetisation move was announced, on January 2017, Justice Karnan wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, listing 20 sitting and retired Supreme Court and High Court judges who had indulged in corruption and demanded an investigation by central agencies. Following the explosive letter, then CJI Justice Khehar and six other judges filed a suo motu contempt case against Karnan and suspended all his judicial and administrative work till he appeared before the top court.
However, Karnan gave the court hearing a miss and demanded Rs 14 crore as the compensatory amount from the seven-judge bench, alleging caste-based discrimination. On March 10, the SC issued a bailable warrant against the 62-year-old judge and requested him to furnish a psychological report to prove he was “mentally fit”.
Thereafter, Karnan ordered the seven-judge bench to appear at his residential court for insulting him in an open court. He further issued bailable warrants against the seven judges and directed the Airport Authority of India to restrain them from flying abroad and convicted the bench under the SC/ST Act for five years.
The apex court then sentenced Karnan to six months in jail for contempt of court on May 9. However, Karnan evaded arrest and hopped on from one state to another. He was finally nabbed from Coimbatore on June 20 and taken to Kolkata’s Presidency Jail.