The in-house inquiry committee instituted by the then Chief Justice of India (CJI) in 2016 to probe allegations of wrongdoing against two sitting judges of Orissa High Court completed its hearings last week and is expected to submit its final report to the CJI by the end of this month.
Sources told The Indian Express that the report is likely to indict the two judges based on documented evidence against them available with the committee.
The three-member probe panel is headed by Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court Justice S J Vazifdar.
The enquiry under the in-house procedure against Justices Indrajit Mahanty and S K Sahoo of Orissa High Court was ordered by the then CJI T S Thakur after receiving a complaint from RTI activist Jayanta Kumar Das in September 2016.
The probe panel had its final hearing at Haryana Bhawan in Delhi on February 2 when each of the two accused judges presented their side to the probe panel.
On February 1, the panel heard complainant Das from Puri prison via video conferencing. A Puri court had sentenced Das in August 2017 to six years of imprisonment for creating fake online email ID and profile and posting them on a pornographic website.
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Allegations against Justice Mahanty pertain to having acted in violation of the code of conduct for a judge by owning a hotel in Cuttack, constructing a five-storeyed building with a sanction for only three stories and passing orders against employment of women in bars which involved a conflict of interest.
Justice Sahoo is alleged to have misused public funds for renovation of his official residence, beyond his entitlement, when he was an Additional Judge. (See Page 13)
The two judges told the panel during the initial hearings in early 2017 that they would not come face-to-face with Das during the proceedings, a request which was accepted by the committee.
The two judges had also been present before the committee in Delhi on December 6, 2017 where Justice Mahanty “objected to Sri Jayanta Kumar Das being heard at all” as he had been convicted. The enquiry committee did not agree with this — a fact that was noted in the minutes of the meeting by the Joint Registrar of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Earlier, Das had appeared in person before the panel at Delhi on May 1 when the name of a sitting Supreme Court judge figured in the probe.
Following discussions between the committee members after the name of the Supreme Court judge surfaced, Justice Vazifdar, on June 15, 2017, wrote to then CJI J S Khehar, seeking his guidance on proceeding with the case as it had no authority to probe a Supreme Court judge.
CJI Khehar did not respond to the letter.
On October 6, 2017, complainant, Das petitioned the in-house enquiry committee for an expeditious completion of the probe. By then Justice Dipak Misra had taken over as CJI. On November 28, 2017, Justice Vazifdar wrote to Das asking him to appear before the committee on December 6 where he was absent.
Consequently, he then wrote to the Registrar of the Odisha High Court on December 12, 2017 asking him to ensure Das’s appearance before the panel at Delhi, either by getting him bail or by video conferencing. Thereafter, Das appeared before the panel via video conferencing on February 1 while Justices Mohanty and Sahoo appeared in person at Delhi on February 2.
If the two Odisha High Court judges are indicted by the in-house inquiry committee, the CJI can either ask the Chief Justice of Odisha High Court to advise the two judges to resign. If they refuse, the CJI can recommend to the President to initiate the process for their impeachment. No judge of the Supreme Court or High Court has been impeached till date.