INVOKING THE possibility of arresting a sitting high court judge — a first in Indian legal history — the Supreme Court Friday issued a bailable warrant against Calcutta High Court judge C S Karnan for failing to show up in court to respond to a contempt notice. A seven-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar, asked the West Bengal Police DGP to serve the warrant on the judge and ensure his presence on March 31.
Hours after this order, Justice Karnan addressed the media in Kolkata and alleged that the seven judges were out to “ruin his life” through orders which were “arbitrary” and “without any authority”. Alleging that he was “being targeted for being a Dalit”, Justice Karnan said that the Constitution clearly underlined that the Supreme Court was neither a master nor a high court its servant.
Drawing up suo motu contempt proceedings, the seven-judge Bench had issued a show-cause notice under contempt of court charges to Justice Karnan on February 8 and February 13. The notices had gone to the judge with a specific direction to appear in person and explain his contemptuous conduct of writing letters, levelling allegations of corruption against several sitting and retired apex court and high court judges.
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Noting Justice Karnan’s non-appearance in court Friday, the Bench ordered: “In view of the above, there is no other alternative but to seek the presence of Shri Justice C S Karnan by issuing bailable warrants. Ordered accordingly. Bailable warrants, in the sum of Rs 10,000, in the nature of a personal bond, to the satisfaction of the arresting officer, be issued, to ensure the presence of Justice Karnan, in this Court, on 31.03.2017, at 10.30 am.”
If Justice Karnan declines to furnish a personal bond, the DGP of the state will have no option but to arrest him and produce him in the apex court on March 31. Such an eventuality would make it an unprecedented episode when a sitting HC judge would be arrested. A high court judge can be removed only through impeachment by Parliament.
When the judges assembled on Friday to hear the case, the Bench was informed by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that the notice has been duly served upon Justice Karnan but he was not present in court. He said that Supreme Court rules provided for issuance of a bailable warrant to secure his presence on the next date.
The A-G also pointed out that despite suspension of his judicial and administrative powers by an order of this Bench, the High Court judge has apparently admitted for hearing a PIL seeking inquiry into a note purportedly left behind by former Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Kalikho Pul, who allegedly committed suicide on August 9 last year.
In a 60-page note in Hindi, Pul purportedly wrote about his commitment to probity and alleged corruption by a range of public figures. His allegations named former and serving CJI, Supreme Court judges, senior law officers, politicians and other persons holding high office.
“Justice Karnan reportedly agreed with the PIL petitioner, who happens to be his lawyer in a matter in the Supreme Court, that this Bench’s order withdrawing his judicial power was null and void,” said Rohatgi.
At this, the Bench replied that this could be a “prank”, too, since Justice Karnan has sent a fax, asking for a meeting with the CJI and other judges in the top court to buttress his request for restoration of his administrative and judicial powers.
“So, if he already had decided that our order was null and void, he never had to write to us for restoration of his powers,” said the Bench. The AG replied that although the Calcutta HC registry is yet to receive this order from Justice Karnan, fact of the matter remained that the HC judge had not complied with the order to show up.
The Bench then passed its order of issuing the warrant against Justice Karnan while noting that his fax message could not be considered as a response “either to the contempt petition or to the notice served upon him.” The Bench also comprised Justices Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, P C Ghose and Kurian Joseph.
On January 23, Justice Karnan had written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to take action against what he described as “high corruption at the judiciary”. In this letter, the judge furnished “an initial list of corrupt judges”, and named 20 judges of the Supreme Court and high courts.
During his stint as a judge in the Madras High Court, Justice Karnan had stayed his own transfer to the Calcutta High Court and moved out only after the Supreme Court and the President stepped in, and issued directions. He has alleged that he was facing discrimination based on caste, and that other judges humiliated him.