In an unprecedented order, the Supreme Court on Friday issued bailable warrants against serving Calcutta High Court judge C S Karnan to ensure his presence before it on March 31 in a contempt case.
Justice Karnan goes down in the Indian judicial history as the first serving High Court judge against whom an arrest warrant has been issued by the apex court in a contempt case. A seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar took strong note of Justice Karnan’s non-appearance despite being served with the contempt notice and asked the Director General of West Bengal Police to execute the warrants on the judge to ensure his presence at 10.30 AM on March 31.
The court said it would “appreciate” if the bailable warrants are served on Justice Karnan by the DGP.
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“Notice of this petition has been duly served. Despite service, wherein the personal presence of Shri Justice C S Karnan, in this Court, was imperative, he has neither entered appearance in person, nor through counsel,” the bench, also comprising Justices Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur, P C Ghose and Kurian Joseph, said.
“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 Shri Justice C S Karnan, in this Court, on March 31 at 10.30 A.M,” it said.
The bench during a 15-minute-long hearing that took place in the packed CJI’s courtroom referred to Justice Karnan’s fax message sent to the apex court registry on March 8 seeking a meeting with the CJI to discuss “certain administrative issues”.
It said the message “primarily seem to reflect the allegations levelled by him against certain named judges. The above fax message, dated March 8, cannot be considered as a response of Justice C S Karnan, either to the contempt petition, or to the notice served upon him.”
At the outset, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said that Justice Karnan had defied the Supreme Court order and the apex court rules on contempt provide for issuance of bailable and non-bailable warrants against a contemnor to ensure his presence.
After the alleged open contemptuous letters written by Justice Karnan against the Madras HC Chief Justice, addressed to the CJI, Prime Minister and others, the court had initiated proceedings against him.
The apex court had on February 8 asked Justice Karnan to appear in person and explain why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him. It had restrained him from undertaking judicial and administrative work.
However, Justice Karnan did not appear before the apex court on February 13 also. On February 10, Justice Karnan had written a letter to the apex court in which he had reportedly played the Dalit card asking the Supreme Court to refer the matter to Parliament, contending that contempt proceedings were “not sustainable”.
“Before obtaining any explanation from me, I wish to state that the courts have no power to enforce punishment against a sitting judge of the High Court. The said order does not conform to logic, therefore it is not suitable for execution,” he had said in the letter.
During the last hearing, senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for the Registrar General of the Madras HC, had said the High Court judges needed protection from Karnan’s verbal abuse and wild charges. He had said the judge concerned had levelled malicious rape charges against a sitting Madras High Court judge.
Justice Karnan was transferred from the Madras HC to the Calcutta HC for his alleged contemptuous conduct. He had on February 15, 2016 stayed his transfer order after the apex court asked the Chief Justice of Madras High Court not to assign any judicial work to him.
The same day the apex court had suspended Justice Karnan’s order and made it clear that all administrative and judicial orders passed by him after the issuance of the proposal of his transfer from the Madras High Court to the Calcutta High Court shall remain stayed till further orders.
However, a week later, the judge had said that he had issued an “erroneous” order due to his “mental frustration resulting in loss of his mental balance”.