The Indian judiciary is in the throes of its worst ever morality crisis. Barely had the A.K. Ganguly episode settled down, than the judiciary was rocked by a scandal involving yet another ex-SC judge against whom a law intern levelled harassment charges. The allegation against the second judge is far more serious as the alleged misdemeanour took place at a time when he was serving in the Supreme Court.
Instances of judges of the higher courts courting controversy are known in the country, but never before in the history of independent India has judges – serving or retired – been charged with crime against women. The situation had prompted M.R. Calla, a retired judge of the Rajasthan High Court, to request the apex court last week to frame rules of conduct for retired judges, prescribe consequences for violations and bring acts by serving and retired judges outside the SC precincts under the ambit of the anti-sexual harassment panel constituted as per the Vishaka guidelines.
The chorus urging the apex court to withdraw its controversial order that probe will not be ordered against its retired judge is growing amid rumours that more law interns are ready to lodge similar complaints. “It is an issue of image of the Supreme Court and more importantly the Indian judiciary. The court’s handling of Ganguly issue enhanced its image. A similar committee has to be formed to probe the allegation against this judge facing such allegation,” Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising says.
Eminent lawyer Harish Salve agrees with Jaising on this point. “The complaint pertains to a period when he was a sitting judge and the intern too is on official rolls. I think this will prove to be a real challenge for the Supreme Court. It may not have a say over post-retirement conduct of its judge, but what he does as a judge stands on a different footing. The court has to act on an urgent basis,” Salve says.
Corruption in the judiciary and the need to uproot it were intermittently debated in last five years when former Kolkata HC judge Soumitra Sen became the first judge in the country to be impeached by the Rajya Sabha for misappropriation of funds in 2011. P.D.
Dinakaran, the former Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court, had to resign in July 2011 following graft allegations. The next year, former CJI and current NHRC chairperson K. G. Balakrishnan faced allegations that his family members had amassed wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income.
In 2003, the CBI arrested Shamit Mukherjee, a former Delhi High Court judge, for his alleged involvement in a land scam. Most recently, the Punjab and Haryana High Court was rocked by a different type of controversy after a bag containing `15 lakh was delivered at the residence of Justice Nirmaljit Kaur on August 13, 2008. The money was allegedly meant for another judge Nirmal Yadav. Yadav, who had to quit later, is now facing trial.
Low Point for Judges
Here is a look at the judges who have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. While some have been accused of corruption, yet another is in the dock for sexual harassment.
Soumitra Sen is the first judge in the country to be impeached by the Rajya Sabha for misappropriation of funds. The former judge of the Calcutta High Court was accused of appropriating `32 lakh as a courtappointed receiver in a lawsuit between Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and Shipping Corporation of India in 1993. A three-judge inquiry panel found Sen guilty and in 2008, the then Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, recommended his impeachment to the Prime Minister. In August 2011, an impeachment motion was moved in Rajya Sabha against Sen and it was passed by an overwhelming majority. Before Lok Sabha was supposed to take up the impeachment motion in September 2011, Sen resigned.
SHAMIT MUKHERJEE JUSTICE
Shamit Mukherjee was a judge of the Delhi High Court. He was arrested by the CBI in 2003 for his alleged involvement in a multicrore land scam. Following the allegations, Mukherjee resigned and was taken into custody by the CBI, a first in Indian legal history. He was later released on bail on medical grounds. In 2008, a Delhi court framed charges against Mukherjee and four others. According to the CBI, Mukherjee had granted an interim stay to restaurant owner Vinod Khatri, who had encroached upon DDA land, as a favour in return of “illegal gratification”. The case is now at evidence recording stage in court while Mukherjee is out on bail.
The former Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court had to resign in July 2011 following allegations of corruption. In 2009, several members of the Bar Council of India alleged that Dinakaran has huge assets in his hometown of Arakkonam in Tamil Nadu. They requested the then CJI, K.G. Balakrishnan, not to appoint Dinakaran to the Supreme Court and sought a probe. He was asked to go on leave by the then CJI but he refused and was subsequently transferred to the Sikkim HC. In the meantime, a motion was moved in the Rajya Sabha seeking Dinakaran’s removal on account of corruption and judicial misconduct. In 2010, Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari constituted a three-judge panel to look into the allegations. The Sikkim Bar Association, too, opposed his transfer and Dinakaran had to finally step down to escape the ignominy of an impeachment.
The former Chief Justice of India and current chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is facing allegations that his family members amassed wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income. Following the allegations, eminent judges and jurists asked Balakrishnan to step down as NHRC chief. A petition seeking a vigilance probe into the allegations was filed before the income-tax, vigilance and anti-corruption departments. In February 2012, following a case filed by the NGO Common Cause, the Supreme Court sought the government’s response as to the progress in the probe against Balakrishnan.
A law intern had levelled charges of sexual harassment against the former judge of the Supreme Court. The incident dates back to December 24, 2012 when Ganguly was in the Capital to arbitrate in a case involving Mohun Bagan football club. Almost a year later, a law intern, in her blog, alleged that the former judge, who subsequently became the chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC), had tried to sexually harass her. The incident drew sharp criticism and the Supreme Court appointed a three-judge committee to look into the allegation. Ganguly was indicted by the panel which agreed with the intern’s allegation that he had subjected her to “unwelcome sexual behaviour”. As the chorus grew louder for him to step down as WBHRC chief and the Union cabinet decided to move a presidential reference to the Supreme Court for his removal. Ganguly finally stepped down as WBHRC chief on January 6, 2014.
On August13, 2008, a sum of Rs.15 lakh was delivered at the residence of Justice Nirmaljit Kaur, a judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Kaur reported the matter to the Chandigarh Police. Following investigation, it was found that the money was allegedly meant for Nirmal Yadav and was sent to the residence of Nirmaljit Kaur due to confusion over their names. An FIR was registered against Yadav under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act on a complaint of a peon of Justice Kaur. Yadav, though, denied the allegation that the money was meant for her. Initially, the case was investigated by the Chandigarh Police but was later transferred to the CBI.
On March 4, 2011, the CBI filed a chargesheet against Yadav and four others for alleged criminal conspiracy and corruption. The chargesheet was filed a day after Yadav, then posted as a judge of the Uttarakhand High Court, retired. On July 31, 2013, the trial court ordered framing of charges against Yadav. She then approached the Supreme Court challenging the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s November 22, 2013 order, dismissing her plea against the trial court’s proceedings. But on January 3, 2014, the Supreme Court also dismissed her plea for stay on proceedings of trial court.
‘It’s a conspiracy against me’
The former Supreme Court judge who has been accused by a law intern of sexually harassing her has termed it a “deep-rooted conspiracy” against him.
“It is a deep rooted conspiracy. None of the facts is verified,” he said in legal notices issued to the media which named him.
Sources said the accused judge is consulting senior lawyers and is working on the future course of action.
The former judge, who now presides over a statutory body had denied the allegations late on Friday night, hours after the details of intern’s affidavit became public.
“The allegations are false and I have a feeling that this is a conspiracy,” he said.
Efforts by media persons to speak to him bore no fruit as two of his personal secretaries who answered calls repeatedly said that ” he would call back if he decides to speak on the issue”. The intern alleged she was sexually harassed twice by the judge at his official residence at a time when he was serving as a judge in the Supreme Court.
The second intern, also a former student of West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, like the intern who complained against Ganguly, had made her complaint in the last week of November 2013, even as a three-member judge panel was in the process of probing the charges against Justice A. K. Ganguly. But she was told no action would be taken on her written complaint.
Meanwhile the bar association which the retired judge is heading passed a resolution supporting him. ” We resolve that demanding his resignation based on one- sided mere assertion in an affidavit tantamount to mob-lynching. Looking at his conduct, his demeanour has been of the highest order,” the association said in a statement.
Harish V. Nair | Mail Today | New Delhi, January 12, 2014 | UPDATED 12:43 IST