In an unprecedented move, the Punjab and Haryana high court judges’ roster was changed on March 28, days after justice Muttaci Jeyapaul not only accepted an unusual, direct surrender of an industrialist accused in a multi-crore drug racket, but also granted him bail. The roster change, therefore, has raised many eyebrows.
Not only this, but chief justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, being the master of the 47-judge roster, has ordered that all mentioning of fresh urgent cases, civil and criminal, and miscellaneous applications in pending cases that are yet to be allocated to any court, now be made before him. Normally, the roster is changed only after winter and summer vacations.
It was on March 6 that Paramjit Singh Chahal, owner of pharmaceutical companies in Baddi, Himachal Pradesh, without first following the practice of approaching trial court for surrender and seeking bail, directly approached the HC. Justice Jeyapaul accepted his surrender and gave him interim bail without directing him to the trial court. Then, on March 22, justice Jeyapaul allowed Chahal’s regular bail petition, too, along with that of his brother Jagjit Singh Chahal. The roster was changed six days later.
In the new roster, the powers of justice Jeyapaul to hear bail matters have been taken away. Now, the powers are with only four of the 13 judges on the criminal cases roster; justice Jeyapaul is the seniormost of these judges.
Jagjit was arrested by the Amritsar police on the night of November 13 last from his house, but Paramjit was on the run till March 6 when he directly surrendered before the HC through senior counsel Vikram Chaudhri. Punjab Police had claimed to have recovered several quintals of Methamphetamine (ICE), Pseudoephedrine and Metphor mine — chemicals used to make synthetic narcotics drugs — from the Baddi factories of the accused in November.
It was allegedly part of the drug racket busted with the arrest of dismissed cop and former international wrestler Jagdish Bhola some months ago. The Chahal brothers had sought the bail in cases registered on May 15 and December 24 last year at Banur in Patiala and Lambra in Jalandhar, respectively.
Questioned by HT about the surrender and bail order, justice Jeyapaul said, “No comments please, and no further questions.”
CJ Kaul, when contacted about the unusual change in roster, denied that the debatable judgment had led to the change, but added, “It’s a judicial order. I have no comments. If someone is aggrieved, he has legal recourse.”
On the unusual practice followed by justice Jeyapaul, the CJ said, “I can’t correct his judicial orders. I don’t have judicial control over him, but only administrative control.”
Senior advocate Anupam Gupta said, “Justice Jeyapaul’s order accepting Paramjit Singh Chahal’s surrender and granting him bail is a self-inflicted wound on judicial credibility. The CJ (by changing the roster) has acted swiftly on the administrative side to preempt recurrence of such orders in the future. That is a direct response to justice Jeyapaul’s order.”
Senior criminal lawyers also said that the roster change was “unusual”, and it could well be related with the case in which justice Jeyapaul’s delivered “debatable” orders.
Meanwhile, the Punjab advocate general office has moved a file to the state home secretary for challenging justice Jeyapaul’s order in the Supreme Court. “We have raised 10-11 issues since such practice is unheard of, as far as I know,” said AG Ashok Aggarwal. The government counsel had objected to grant of bail by filing written replies in the court.