Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, Chairman of Press Council of India, on Monday stirred a controversy by alleging that three ex-Chief Justices of India had compromised in giving extension to an additional judge of Madras High court at the instance of UPA government in the wake of pressure from one of its allies, apparently DMK.
Mr. Katju made the charge while alleging how the three former CJIs – Justices R. C. Lahoti, Y. K. Sabharwal and K. G. Balakrishnan – had made “improper compromises” in allowing the judge, against whom there were several allegations of corruption, to continue in office. “These three former CJIs made improper compromises. Justice Lahoti who started it, then Justice Sabharwal and then Justice Balakrishnan. These are CJIs who can surrender. Is a CJI going to surrender to political pressure or not going to surrender to political pressure?” Mr. Katju, who became the Chief Justice of Madras High Court in November 2004, told NDTV. Mr. Katju later became a Supreme Court judge.
Mr. Katju said since he got many reports that the additional judge concerned was allegedly indulging in corruption had requested the then CJI Justice Lahoti to get a secret IB inquiry made about him.
He claimed that the IB report found the allegations to be true and he should have been sacked.
Mr. Katju said since the two-year term as additional judge of that person was coming to an end he presumed he would be discontinued as Judge. “But to my utter shock I came to know he was been given another extension when an adverse IB report was there,” he said.
Mr. Katju said he came to know that the reason for all this was that at that time the UPA-I government was dependent on allies and one of them was a Tamil Nadu party, an apparent reference to DMK, whose leader was given bail by the additional judge concerned.
Mr. Katju said that the additional judge was not a permanent judge and that he may or may not be confirmed. “There was no justification for giving him another term of one year and later on Justice Lahoti retired. Justice Sabharwal also I think once or twice gave him terms as additional judge and then he also retired. Justice Balakrishnan made this judge permanent judge although he tranferred him to another High Court,” he said.
The leader of the Tamil Nadu party was a solid supporter of the additional judge who had given the leader bail, he said.
Mr. Katju said the matter had come to a three-judge collegium of the Apex court of which Justice Lahoti and Justice Sabharwal were among the members and it was recommended that the district judge should not be continued in office.
He said on coming to know of the recommendation of collegium the Tamil Nadu-based party reportedly objected to it. Mr. Katju said the information he got was that the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was, at that time, leaving for New York to attend the UN General Assembly session. At the Delhi airport, the then PM was told by Ministers of the Tamil Nadu party that by the time he returned from New York his government would have fallen as their party would withdraw support to the UPA (for not continuing that additional judge).
Mr. Katju, however, said he had no personal knowledge about this. The UPA government was at the Centre at that time and Congress was the largest party in this alliance but it did not have a majority in Lok Sabha, and was dependent on the support of its allies.
Mr. Katju said one such ally was the party in Tamil Nadu which was backing this “corrupt judge“. Mr. Katju said the reports he had was that Mr. Manmohan Singh panicked, but he was told by a senior Congress Minister not to worry, and that he would manage everything. That Minister then went to Justice Lahoti and told him there would be a “crisis” if that additional judge was discontinued, he said.
On hearing this, Justice Lahoti sent a letter to the Government of India to give another term of one year as additional judge to that “corrupt judge”, he claimed. Mr. Katju wondered whether Justice Lahoti consulted his two Supreme Court collegium members and concluded it was in these circumstances this “corrupt” judge was given another one-year term.
Asked why he was making this disclosure now, Mr. Katju said the timing was “immaterial” and that instead the matter should be investigated to find out whether what he was saying was correct or not.