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Politics & Governance

Collegium System Of Appointing Judges Found Wanting

Calcutta High Court Judge Chinnaswamy Swaminathan Karnan, who was sentenced to six months jail on contempt charges by the Supreme Court, is evading arrest by having gone underground. The allegations of Justice Karnan prompted contempt action — the first in the history of Indian courts against a sitting judge. 

This episode brings to the fore the lacunae in the collegium system of appointing judges which needs to be changed as it lacks transparency. The question is can there be a middle path between the National Judicial Appointments Commission, 2014, and the Collegium system needs to re-examined. 

Justice Karnan filed a mercy petition before President Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday seeking suspension of sentence.

Those who recommended elevation of Karnan as a judge have erred proving that the collegium system, which was devised by the judges themselves in 1993, suffered from serious infirmities.  

There is no doubt Justice Karnan’s actions have eroded the dignity of the judiciary. A case in point is Justice Chelameshwar Rao boycotting the collegium proceedings on the ground that it lacks transparency. What is bewildering is that the records of these meetings are never kept. 

The CJI cannot recall the records of such meetings. In these circumstances the appointment of Justice Karnan requires a thorough probe. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill which provides disciplinary action against erring judges needs to be enacted as the in-house mechanism has failed to deliver probity and accountability. 

The Supreme Court could have sought the impeachment procedure to remove Justice Karnan instead of contempt action. The decisions taken at the collegium is not always unanimous to elevate a particular judge to the Supreme Court. 

It is shocking that dissenting voices are suppressed and secrecy leads to partiality giving a go by to transparency. It is widely believed that Justice Karnan must accept responsibility for the difficult situation that he has created for himself. He is now seeking leniency from the Apex court. 

The Supreme Court had directed that Justice Karnan be examined by a panel of Doctors in the Eastern metropolis which he refused on the specious plea that there was nothing wrong with him physically or mentally. 

The Kolkata police is on the lookout for him to take him into custody as directed by the Supreme Court. There is a police jeep parked in front of his residence in Chennai along with a close watch being kept in Kolkata. 

Having cooked his own goose by carrying things to absurd lengths, initial reports suggests Justice Karnan travelled from Kolkata to Chennai in his home state of Tamil Nadu and then to Andhra Pradesh. There have been suggestions he might have crossed over to Nepal or Bangladesh. 

This is in the wake of Justice Karnan’s unprecedented ordering of non-bailable warrants against the Chief Justice of India J S Khehar and six other judges of the Apex court on the second of May. 

It is rather late in the day now to regret what he has done and if he finds the atmosphere conducive there are indications he might tender an apology to the Supreme Court. He claimed he was being victimised being a Dalit and that was the reason for his transfer from the Madras High Court to the Calcutta High court. Countering the order of the seven-judge bench headed by CJI Khehar, Justice Karnan filed an affidavit explaining his remarks and allegations against fellow judges. He accused the seven judge bench of robbing him of his mental and physical balance. He also accused the bench of depriving him of his dignity and stripping him of his judicial powers. He went on to order five years rigorous imprisonment for all the seven judges including the CJI inviting the wrath of the Apex court. 

It did not end there. Justice Karnan contended that the Supreme Court had no powers to arrest him. The 62-year-old judge demanded an investigation into the corruption charges against 20 judges of the Madras High Court whom he had named. 

CJI Kehar said they would examine Justice Karnan’s plea to recall its order sentencing him to six months imprisonment. “We will consider it and take a decision,” the CJI told Mathew Nedumpura, appearing for Justice Karnan. 

It is also speculated Justice Karnan will come overground only when the President gives him an appointment to seek pardon.

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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