Misconduct tarnishing image of India's judiciary

  • Letters
  • Monday, 27 Jan 2003

Indian Diary by Coomi Kapoor

THE Indian judiciary is in the dock. For long considered the saviour of a long-suffering people saddled with a corrupt political class and an insensitive bureaucracy, higher judiciary was the only beacon of hope for harassed citizens. 

But in recent months the image of the judiciary has taken a beating following some high-profile cases of gross misconduct by senior judges. Truly, their lordships haven't been worthy of the trust the people are expected to repose in their sterling conduct and character. Judges too, it seems, have feet of clay. 

Consider, for example, one of the most shocking instances of judicial misconduct in recent months. Justice Arun Madan, a judge of the Rajasthan High Court, had it conveyed through a senior court official to a woman doctor whose case was pending before him that she could get a favourable verdict provided she slept with him. 

The court official too demanded sexual favour in return for the favourable verdict.  

The doctor, who runs a body-care clinic, was accused of having carried out an illegal abortion with the sole objective of preventing the birth of a female child.  

The woman doctor proved to be gutsy. She approached the local police which, fortunately for her, was headed by a woman cop.  

They taped the court official on video camera while he was propositioning the petitioner for sex.  

Following a police case, the court official was arrested, but no action could be taken against the honourable judge since he was protected under the law. 

The judges constitute a special species in India and can be removed only through an intricate process leading to their impeachment by Parliament by two-thirds of the members present. 

If no judge has been impeached since the founding of the Indian Republic more than 50 years ago, it is not because all of them were paragons of virtue.  

No, it is because in most cases everyone involved decides to brush judicial misconduct under the carpet; in the rare case when it cannot be suppressed, the judicial personages and politicians gang up to ensure that the guilty judge gets away with it.  

In another recent of judicial misconduct, three judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, namely, M.L. Singh, Mehtab Singh Gill and Amarbir Singh sought the services of the chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission, R. P.  

Sidhu, so that their wards could top the entrance exam for employment with the state government. 

Sidhu, who was arrested following disclosures that he was running a jobs-for-cash scam, had leaked out the examination paper for the benefit of the wards of the three judges. 

Late last year when the scandal hit national headlines, High Court lawyers boycotted their courts, seeking the resignation of the three judges. But they brazened out the scandal for months, proceeding on leave only after the Chief Justice of the High Court forced the issue by sending a report into their conduct to the Chief Justice of India. 

Two of them were shamed into offering their resignations, but Justice M. L. Singh continues to be on the rolls.  

But the most recent judicial scandal takes the cake. Three judges of the Karnataka High Court, namely, N. S. Veerabhadraiah, V. Gopalagowda and Chandrasekharaiah were found in their birthday suits cavorting with a couple of women lawyers and a call girl in a guest house on the outskirts of Mysore. When a lady guest protested at their obscene behaviour, they picked up a fight with her, threatening to “fix” her. 

When the police arrived at the urgent summons of the lady guest, it found their lordships in flagrante delicto with their female companions. Even in their inebriated condition, they managed to browbeat the police.  

The Mysore guesthouse orgy soon hit headlines with the Karnataka demanding the dismissal of the errant judges. The Chief Justice of India, G.B. Pattanaik, very reluctantly ordered an inquiry. The inquiry report was submitted to Pattanaik a few days before he retired, but so far no action has been taken against the three judges.  

These are by no means the only cases of judicial misconduct. But all the same illustrative of the rot that has set in the once majestic institution. Errant judges do not fear punishment because the impeachment process laid down in the Constitution was devised with the objective of safeguarding the independence of judiciary. 

Experience has shown that it only aids wrongdoers. The only case of impeachment to have reached Parliament was against Justice V. Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court in the early 90s. 

He was found to have indulged in financial skulduggery as the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Harayana High Court. The motion of the impeachment fell through for want of support by two-thirds of the MPs present. 

In the absence of impeachment, one would think the public exposure of errant judges would act as a salutary deterrent. But such is the arrogance of the high and mighty judiciary that anyone who reports even most truthfully the unseemly doings of the honourable judges opens himself to the very real prospect of being hauled up on a charge of contempt of court.  

Their power of contempt being all-pervasive, following the Mysore sex scandal over 60 small and big publications in Karanataka were served contempt of court notices for having allegedly lowered the dignity of the honourable court by reporting a sanitised version.  

That explained how in the last decade or so an activist judiciary had slowly but surely poached on the domain of the executive and legislative branches with the tacit approval of the silent majority.  

The rate at which senior members of the judiciary were getting mired in scandals, it was only a matter of time before the judiciary too suffered public opprobrium. 

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