In 2008, corruption dented Indian judiciary’s image (Yearender - 23)

December 30th, 2008 - 4:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 30 (IANS) Hit by at least three scandals involving judges, the halo around India’s higher judiciary dimmed a little in 2008. But, led by its first Dalit chief justice known for his no-nonsense approach to issues of public importance, the institution also demonstrated its resolve to weed out corrupt elements from it.”Because of so many scandals, the judiciary has lost its tag of being a holy cow,” Prashant Bhushan, senior lawyer, told IANS.

One of the worst scandals involved the siphoning off of millions of rupees worth of social security funds of lower grade court employees in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh for the benefit of the high priests of judiciary. The case is being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The judges who allegedly benefited from the fraudulently withdrawn fund of Rs.230 million from Ghaziabad district treasury since 2000 included one of the Supreme Court besides around a dozen judges of the Allahabad High Court and several others of the Uttar Pradesh subordinate judiciary.

The scam tumbled out of the closet at a time when the Supreme Court was already contending with a question mark over Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan’s decision to confirm the services of Madras High Court’s Additional Judge Ashok Kumar despite having adverse intelligence inputs against his integrity.

In a lawsuit filed in the apex court in 2007 itself, the chief justice had additionally been accused of confirming Justice Kumar’s services without the mandatory consultation with his two seniormost colleagues in the apex court.

“Surely, the year was pretty bad for Indian judiciary,” said senior advocate K.K. Venugopal.

The year also saw the bizarre episode of erstwhile Haryana additional advocate general Sanjiv Bansal’s clerk delivering a bagful of cash worth Rs.1.5 million at the residence of Justice Nirmaljit Singh Kaur of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh in August.

Justice Kaur reported the matter to police and the initial probe revealed that the cash was meant for another woman judge of the same high court, Justice Nirmal Yadav, allegedly to finance some of her corrupt deals. This case too is being probed by the CBI.

There was more discomfort for the judiciary.

Barely a month later, it transpired that the apex court was unsuccessfully trying to get rid of a Calcutta High Court judge, Justice Soumitra Sen, who had misappropriated Rs.58 million of the high court’s fund in the mid-1980s, nearly two decades before he was appointed a judge in December 2003.

Justice Sen had misappropriated the court’s fund, accruing to it as suit properties, on two occasions - first in 1984 and then again in 1997.

The startling revelations about criminal misappropriation of the court’s fund by Justice Sen came to the public domain after Chief Justice Balakrishnan wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, recommending ouster of the erring judge through impeachment. The CJI had sought Justice Sen’s ouster after he ignored the apex court’s advice to quit. The government is yet to move parliament for his impeachment.

But despite more than one scandal denting the judiciary’s image during the year, Chief Justice Balakrishnan never sought to shield it.

“He has a no-nonsense approach to issues of public importance, owing to his firsthand awareness of ground realities,” a top Supreme Court official said.

Balakrishnan didn’t just allow a probe by police and CBI into various instances of judicial misconduct and corruption, but also formed high level judicial panels for independent scrutiny of the truth behind the allegations.

In the process, the chief justice also allowed full legal scrutiny of his own administrative decisions, like his move to confirm the services of Justice Ashok Kumar of the Madras High Court.

Similarly, he also allowed legal scrutiny of his decision to see the vetting of questions to be posed by police before high court and Supreme Court judges, suspected to be beneficiaries in the fraudulent withdrawal of funds from Ghaziabad’s treasury.

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