In a major embarrassment for the Central government and the Chief Justice of India, a Calcutta High Court judge facing removal proceedings on charges of corruption has rejoined duty.
Justice Soumitra Sen, whose impeachment was recommended by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan in a letter to the Prime Minister in August and endorsed by a government-appointed expert committee on Monday, resumed attending the high court last week, court sources said.
“Justice Sen has not been permitted to hear cases. He will be looking after administrative affairs of the court,” the source said.
Justice Sen was divested of all work in November 2006, when allegations of misappropriation of Rs 50 lakh against him became public.
Justice Sen’s return to the court despite the CJI’s recommendation to remove him — and supported by the Law Ministry — has now put both Chief Justice Balakrishnan and the Centre in an awkward situation.
In perhaps the first case of its kind, Justice Sen has completely defied the CJI and the Centre by refusing to either resign or seek voluntary retirement.
“A high court judge is under the administrative control of his chief justice. Neither the CJI nor the Law Ministry has any role in it, till the time he is a judge,” a senior Law Ministry official said.
The CJI had recommended Justice Sen’s removal based on a report by a committee of three judges, which had held him guilty
of misappropriation of over Rs 50 lakh.
The government had accepted the CJI’s recommendation, but appeared unwilling to quickly proceed during its last few months in office.
Aware of the fact that no judge had been removed by impeachment so far, the Law Ministry proceeded to seek legal opinion on whether charges against Justice Sen were strong enough.
After a scrutiny of the charges, the Legal Affairs department in its detailed reply told the ministry: “Though Sen was a lawyer when these allegations were made, but he did not make a true disclosure of his income in 2003, when he was elevated as a judge. Infact he kept the money with him for more than two years even after becoming a judge and this is a clear misconduct.”
The allegations against Justice Sen date back to 1993, when he was a lawyer in the Calcutta High Court. He was appointed as a court receiver in a dispute between the Steel Authority of India Limited and the Shipping Corporation of India.
Instead of depositing money with the court, Sen allegedly transferred the amount in his personal bank account. He deposited the money with the High Court only after a single judge ordered him to pay back the entire amount to the court in 2006.
(with inputs from Kolkata)