The contempt notice served on a Calcutta High Court judge, Justice Karnan, by a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India Justice JS Khehar is the first instance of a sitting High Court judge facing a contempt case. The notice is for continuously levelling allegations against former and sitting judges and other luminaries. That Justice Karnan is defiant is borne out by the fact that he did not turn up for the court hearing on Monday and failed to intimate the court about the reasons for it. “It is the first time we will act against a sitting High Court judge and have to be very careful with what we settle as a precedent for times to come,” the bench observed. Last year, one of the three judges who comprised the high court’s collegium which had recommended his appointment as a judge, went public, apologising for his selection. The other two suggested that impeachment proceedings be initiated against him.
Like in any other walk of life, the judiciary can hardly be expected to be without any aberrations. Justice Karnan’s first brush with controversies was in 2011, when he wrote to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes complaining of harassment and victimisation by other judges because he was a Dalit. He also alleged others were trying to belittle him. By way of an example, he spoke about how another judge, who was also attending a marriage function, crossed his leg so that it touched his. In June 2013, the judge—while hearing a case—ruled that if a couple of legal age indulged in sexual gratification, it would be considered as a legal marriage and they would be termed as husband and wife. When there was an uproar over the judgment, he passed another order in which he gagged persons from making adverse comments. In February 2016, Justice Karnan stayed his transfer ordered by the Supreme Court collegium to Calcutta High Court. “I am ashamed to have born in India. I want to move to a country without caste system,” he said. When this case reached the Supreme Court, he apologised, attributing his decision to “loss of mental balance”. One can only hope that the Karnan controversy will soon be put to rest and that justice will prevail in the highest rung of the judiciary.