Apex court judge abandons graft case hearing against judiciary (Lead)

August 7th, 2008 - 8:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS) Taking exception to repeated allegations by a senior counsel that the Supreme Court was “protecting corrupt judges”, the second senior-most judge of the court Thursday abandoned hearing of a graft case against the judiciary. Justice B.N. Agrawal withdrew himself from the bench, which was hearing a lawsuit seeking a high-level probe into the allegations that several retired and sitting judges, including those from the higher judiciary, were beneficiaries of fraudulent withdrawal of over Rs.70 million from the Ghaziabad district court treasury between 2001 and 2007.

Justice Agrawal abandoned the hearing following repeated allegations by former union law minister and senior counsel Shanti Bhushan that “the Supreme Court is protecting corrupt judicial officials”.

The apex court judge said he would not be party to hearing unsubstantiated allegations against the Supreme Court.

However, the two other judges on the bench, Justice V.S. Sirpurkar and Justice G.S. Singhvi, decided against withdrawing themselves from the hearing. Justice Agrawal then referred the case to Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan for deciding the future course of action.

The bench was hearing the matter since last Thursday. After senior counsel Anil B. Diwan finished his arguments Wednesday, former union law minister Shanti Bhushan began his arguments, contending that the judges must not be given any immunity from prosecution for their alleged wrong-doings. The hearing remained inconclusive Wednesday.

On Thursday, Shanti Bhushan, assisted by his son Prashant Bhushan, resumed the arguments. When he made several contentious submissions, it seemed to irk Justice Agrawal.

Explaining the reason for abandoning the hearing, Justice Agrawal said in his brief order: “During the argument, he categorically submitted that the Supreme Court is giving protection to corrupt judicial officers.”

“As the bench felt it contemptuous and asked him to withdraw the submission, he withdrew it, and thereafter the argument proceeded further,” said Justice Agrawal in his order.

“When Shanti Bhushan was being heard and we put a question to him, Prashant Bhushan shouted at us that we were putting words in the mouth of Shanti Bhushan,” said Justice Agarawal.

“We don’t approve of such behaviour from a member of the bar of this court. We feel that it is not conducive to go ahead with the hearing,” he added and abandoned the hearing.

At one point of the hearing Thursday, following the “contemptuous” allegations against the apex court, the bench warned Shanti Bhushan and his son that they might be prosecuted for showing contempt to court.

At this, Prashant Bhushan dared the bench to launch contempt to court proceedings.

The Ghaziabad police, which is probing the fraudulent withdrawal from the district court treasury, had earlier sought Chief Justice Balakrishnan’s permission to quiz various sitting and retired judges, including those of the Allahabad High Court and one of the apex court, on the allegations.

The office of the Chief Justice of India had asked the police to submit its written questionnaire to it for vetting before it was posed to the judges.

In his lawsuit filed on behalf of NGO Transparency International, Shanti Bhushan objected to this order of the CJI’s office, and said it was akin to “putting fetters” on the probe into the scam.

Justice Agrawal had taken strong exception to this plea.

“We want to know what fetters. We have serious objections. It is very serious. You are making allegations against the Registrar General who is a member of the higher judicial service. It means you are making allegations against the Supreme Court of India,” the bench observed Wednesday.

The bench demanded withdrawal of the allegations, but Shanti Bhushan stuck to his point and asserted that the judiciary cannot insulate itself from criticism.

“Everybody is equal. What is supreme is the Constitution, the judiciary cannot insulate itself from corruption charges,” he maintained.

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