New Delhi : This was one of the worst kept secrets in the public domain. Even before the Gopal Subramanium episode hit the headlines and there was palpable evidence of ‘political interference’ in judicial appointments, those in the know of things, had been aware of this phenomena being at work.
When Subramanium, whose name had been recommended for elevation as the Supreme Court judge by the collegium, could not make it, as the new NDA government appointed three others from the same set and ignored him, the Supreme Court Chief Justice strongly objected to it in the public domain.
However, we now have it in black and white. Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India, and retired Supreme Court judge has ‘spilled the beans’ in his blog. Narrating from his personal experience, Katju has observed that an ally of the then ruling party, the Congress, had brought political pressure on the prime minister Manmohan Singh for the appointment of an additional high court judge in Tamil Nadu. Though Katju does not drop any names, the reference is to the Dravida Munnetra Kazgham and its leader M Karunanidhi.
He goes on to narrate that the person, a district judge, was not only appointed as an additional judge, his appointment was ratified later by three chief justices — Justice
R C Lahoti, Justice Y S Sabharwal and Justice K G Balakrishnan. Only in the last named judge’s tenure was this Tamil Nadu judge transferred to Andhra Pradesh. Katju has charged these three chief justices with making improper compromises. In his blog, Katju writes — ‘‘These three former CJIs made improper compromises. Justice Lahoti started it, then Justice Sabharwal and then Justice Balakrishnan. These are CJIs who can surrender. Is a CJI going to surrender to political pressure or not going to surrender to political pressure?’
The blog, which hit the headlines, had a ripple effect in both the houses of Parliament. The question hour remained paralysed in the Rajya Sabha, as the AIADMK seized the opportunity to hit back at its rival, the DMK, and wanted a full-fledged discussion on the appointment of the judges.
V Maitreyan, the AIADMK member who led his party’s attack, wanted a clarification from the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was present in the house. “Is he aware of the allegations against the judge? Did his ally DMK put pressure on him for the judge’s appointment?’’
The issue also figured in the Lok Sabha and though there were interruptions, but the business did proceed as per the agenda for the day.
Katju was with Madras High Court at the relevant time, and it is apparent that only after the change in regime at the centre, he has thought it fit to come out with these details.
He has observed that the question as to why he did not speak at that time is irrelevant and what is relevant is whether these details are correct or not. A former law minister H R Bharadwaj has confirmed the facts as stated by Justice Katju.