While Bhardwaj and other CJIs are trying to save themselves from the bomb that Katju has exploded in the broad day-light, the fact remains crystal clear…
Former Supreme Court judge and Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju’s newspaper article has kicked up a political storm. He had alleged that pressure from an alliance partner of the United Progressive Alliance forced three successive ex-Chief Justices of the apex court to give extensions to an additional judge of the Madras High Court despite an adverse Intelligence Bureau (IB) report.
After Katju’s expose, interestingly, the Congress party which led UPA in the centre, is mum on the issue defending its stance and questioning the timing of the issue. But the former law minister HK Bhardwaj has shed light on the matter a little bit.
In an interview to a news channel, Bhardwaj accepted that there was indeed pressure from UPA’s key ally. But, as anybody could guess, he asserted that the government did not give in to it, and had strictly followed procedure in granting an one-year extension to Justice Ashok Kumar – the unnamed judge in Katju’s expose.
He told the channel, “The procedure was followed strictly. In the first hand, CJI had agreed with Justice Katju’s recommendation that the judge should not be made a permanent judge. But on the representation of DMK, and about 18 members of parliament of scheduled caste and backward class, this case was referred back to CJI, who agreed to extend his tenure pending inquiry. There was no favour, CJI of Madras did not favour him that is why he was not made permanent. In the inquiry it was found that he was close to political parties, later on he was transferred out.”
Accoring to Bhardwaj, “Coalition partners make things very difficult. They do embarrass the office of the Prime Minister.” But then he added, “I did my work according to law. They (allies) could not dictate terms to me. In this case, after a year or two, he (CJI) transferred the judge out of the court.”
It should be noted that Bhardwaj has given similar explanation to other media channels and newspapers. Like his party, he has also questioned Katju’s timing in making his revelations public, and criticised him over his choice of words.
But maybe he is missing the larger picture. Katju’s charges included the subtle indication that subsequent CJIs – CJI YK Sabharwal, who gave the corrupt judge a fresh term, and the man who succeeded him as CJI, KG Balakrishnan, made the judge’s appointment permanent and moved him to another state – also gave in to the political pressure.
Although CJI Balakrishnan has already reacted to the charges and dismissed them as “baseless”, the Times of India reported in an article: Six years ago, the Supreme Court was scathing in its criticism of former Chief Justice RC Lahoti for surrendering the judiciary’s primacy and “swaying to the UPA government’s view” in 2005 to grant extension of service to a Madras high court judge, referred as “corrupt” by former SC judge Markandey Katju.
However, Balakrishnan, currently chairperson of National Human Rights Commission, said, “I thought it fit to transfer him to Andhra Pradesh. That was the best thing we can do. Because that party is not ruling party in Andhra Pradesh. He was confirmed and sent to Andhra Pradesh. This is the only factual report.” Former Chief Justice RC Lahoti also reacted to these charges saying, “”Everything is a matter of record. Whatever I have done or not done is all on record with reasons. I have never done anything wrong in my life.”
Another former law minister M Veerappa Moily said: “I have no comments… these are all matters to be dealt by the collegium… Today after 10 years raking up the same issue, I don’t know what is the logic and reason behind this.”
While Bhardwaj and other CJIs are trying to save themselves from the bomb that Katju has exploded in the broad day-light, the fact remains crystal clear: political parties do try to influence government over judicial appointments paving way for corruption in the system.