In an interview to CNN-IBN, former Law Minister HK Bhardwaj agreed that there was pressure from UPA’s key ally, but asserted that the government did not give in to it, and had strictly followed procedure in granting an one-year extension to Justice Ashok Kumar.
He told the channel, “The procedure was followed strictly. In the first hand, CJI had agreed with Justice Katju’s recommendation that the judge should not be made a permanent judge. But on the representation of DMK, and about 18 members of parliament of scheduled caste and backward class, this case was referred back to CJI, who agreed to extend his tenure pending inquiry. There was no favour, CJI of Madras did not favour him that is why he was not made permanent. In the inquiry it was found that he was close to political parties, later on he was transferred out.”
Bhardwaj added to the interview, “Coalition partners make things very difficult. They do embarrass the office of the Prime Minister.” But he went on to add that “I did my work according to law. They (allies) could not dictate terms to me. In this case, after a year or two, he (CJI) transferred the judge out of the court.”
Bhardwaj has also told Hindustan Times, “The DMK was an important ally (of UPA) and their MPs came to see me in my office saying the Madras HC judge was being discriminated against. The MPs were also agitated as they felt that a scheduled caste judge was being singled out by Justice Markandey Katju.”
Bhardwaj also questioned Katju’s timing in making his revelations public, and criticised him over his choice of words. He said that no appointment had been made on the basis of political favoritism either by him or Manmohan Singh and that Katju was maligning “the institute he has served.”
It should be noted that Justice Katju’s charges didn’t just stop at the UPA government and their allies. He also said that the next CJI YK Sabharwal, gave the corrupt judge a fresh term, and the man who succeeded him as CJI, KG Balakrishnan, made the judge’s appointment permanent and moved him to another state.
Former CJI K G Balakrishnan has already reacted to the charges and dismissed them as “baseless.” He asked why Katju, a former Supreme Court Judge, was now raising the issue after so many years, Balakrishnan, adding that the concerned judge, who has now passed away, was given an extension strictly according to laid down procedure and that it was not done under any pressure from any quarters.
“It is completely baseless. It is not factually correct,” the former Chief Justice of India, who is one of the three CJIs Katju had accused of improper compromises, told PTI.
“In confirmation of a judge, what is improper compromise… After 10 years, he makes these (allegations) and that too when that gentleman is no more,” Balakrishnan said.
Balakrishnan, currently chairperson of National Human Rights Commission, however, said there were allegations against the judge that he had some “acquaintances” with the ruling party in Tamil Nadu and that is why he had transferred him to Andhra Pradesh.
When asked about the IB report mentioned by Katju, he said he was not aware of it. “I thought it fit to transfer him to Andhra Pradesh. That was the best thing we can do. Because that party is not ruling party in Andhra Pradesh. He was confirmed and sent to Andhra Pradesh. This is the only factual report,” he said. The former CJI also toldEconomic Times that Katju’s claims were “silly.”
Former Chief Justice RC Lahoti also reacted to these charges saying, “”Everything is a matter of record. Whatever I have done or not done is all on record with reasons. I have never done anything wrong in my life.”
The Congress has, of course defended itself against the charges made by Justice Katju. Another former law minister M Veerappa Moily said: “I have no comments… these are all matters to be dealt by the collegium… Today after 10 years raking up the same issue, I don’t know what is the logic and reason behind this.”
Party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that while they have noted the issue, “We all must exercise restraint in matters relating to apex judiciary, collegium. The statement appears after nine years of alleged event. It refers to four-five different persons whose separate clarifications have not been received.”
Despite that Congress’s defence over the timing, former Law Minister Bhardwaj has accepted that the DMK did exert some pressure designed to keep the judge in office. Thus the larger question that Justice Kajtu has raised, about the influence of political parties when it come to judicial appointments, is only going to gain more credence.