Calcutta High Court judge faces the sack (Lead)

September 8th, 2008 - 8:25 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 8 (IANS) In only the second case of its kind, Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan has recommended removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court for “criminal misappropriation” of over Rs.58 million of the high court’s funds.”I write this to recommend that the proceedings contemplated by Article 217 (1) read with Article 124 (4) of the constitution be initiated for removal of Justice Soumitra Sen, judge, Calcutta High Court,” Chief Justice Balakrishnan wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Aug 4.

The recommendation was made after Justice Sen ignored an advice by the apex court’s collegium, headed by the chief justice and including two senior most judges, Justice B.N. Agrawal and Justice Ashok Bhan, to either resign or retire voluntarily by April 2, 2008.

The apex court collegium had Feb 2 directed Justice Sen to resign after hearing him, but he on March 26 declined to do so.

He faces the charge of misappropriating the high court’s funds when he was practising as a lawyer - years before he became a judge at the same court in December 2003.

As per the chief justice letter to the prime minister, Justice Sen had misappropriated the court funds, accruing to it as suit properties, on two occasions - first in 1984 and then again in 1997, while acting as special officer appointed by the court to take charge of the suit properties and to keep them in his safe custody.

Adjudicating a lawsuit between two state firms, Steel Authority of India Limited and Shipping Corporation of India Limited, the high court had in April 1984 appointed Sen as the court’s receiver to take charge of some goods imported by SAIL through SCIL, but subsequently rejected by it on being found of inferior quality.

The high court had directed him to sell the suit property and keep the sale proceeds with him in a separate bank account in safe custody after deducting five percent of the proceeds as his remunerations.

Justice Sen deposited the entire amount of Rs.33.22 million in two separate banks in Kolkata, but gradually withdrew all the money from them for his personal use.

Later in 1997, acting as a special officer of the high court in a case involving payment of Rs.70 million to the workers of a Kolkata-based ceiling fan manufacturing firm, which had gone bankrupt, Justice Sen had deposited the sum in another bank account.

But even out of this sum, he misappropriated Rs.25 million, which he invested in a private firm, Lynx India Ltd that too later become bankrupt.

Despite these cases of criminal misappropriation of huge funds by him, Justice Sen was appointed judge of the high court.

The misappropriation of the funds was detected in 2006 after SAIL demanded the sale proceeds of the suit property received by him.

But Justice Sen chose to ignore the SAIL demand, following which the state firm moved the high court in 2002.

It was during the adjudication of SAIL’s new lawsuit that the misappropriation was unearthed.

Though Justice Sen never cooperated with the court, he eventually returned Rs.57.85 million to it following its order to return Rs.52.46 million, including the interest on Rs.33.22 million of sale proceeds of the SAIL suit property.

As some sections of the media in Kolkata reported the matter, the then chief justice of the Calcutta High Court withdrew judicial work from Justice Sen and wrote to then chief justice of India Y.K. Sabharwal in November 2006, apprising him of his conduct.

After examining the high court chief justice’s report, Chief Justice Balakrishnan in November 2007 ordered a “deeper probe” into the matter and constituted a three-member panel, comprising Madras High Court Chief Justice A.P. Shah, Madhya Pradesh High Court Chief Justice A.K. Patnaik and Rajasthan High Court Justice R.M. Lodha.

The chief justice recommended Justice Sen’s sacking, after the judicial panel indicted him for criminal misappropriation of court funds and criminal breach of trust.

The panel in its report said: “Justice Sen did not have an honest intention right from the year 1993 since he mixed the money received as a court’s officer with his personal money and converted the court’s fund to his own use.”

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