The Supreme Court on Thursday witnessed an unprecedented spat between its second senior-most judge and former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan. The showdown took place during the hearing of multi-crore Provident Fund scam, involving 36 judges of the Allahabad High Court and Gaziabad district court.
Stung by the senior advocate’s remark that Supreme Court was protecting corrupt judges, the bench headed by Justice B.N. Agarwal said 81-year-old Bhushan was behaving like a “street urchin”. Justice Agarwal who was vociferous than his two colleagues threatened to issue contempt notice against the former Law Minister. Unperturbed by the threat, Bhushan retaliated: “Please issue a contempt notice. I am ready to face it.”
The court took umbrage at Bhushan’s statement made during his arguments on behalf of the Transparency International. The NGO has challenged the Chief Justice of India’s administrative decision, asking UP police to submit a questionnaire to him before probing judges allegedly involved in the PF scam.
Resuming his arguments Bhushan said the Supreme Court judgement of 1991 in the Veeraswamy case, restraining police from registering an FIR against a sitting High Court judge without CJI’s permission, was protecting corrupt judges.
“I will not tolerate this,” said Justice Agarwal. “How can you charge the Supreme Court of protecting corrupt judges? Is this the character of this nation?” he asked the senior advocate.
When Bhushan stated the character of the judiciary should not go down, the judge replied: “What about the character of politicians, lawyers and the society? We come from the same corrupt society and do not descend from heaven. But it seems you have descended from heaven and are, therefore, accusing us.”
As Bhushan withdrew his statement, on the advice of his colleagues like Fali S. Nariman and Anil Dewan, tempers raised again when the bench objected to advocate Prashant Bhushan’s constant “intervention” during the arguments. “Don’t provoke your senior counsel,” said the bench to which Prashant said: “ I am getting provoked. You are putting words into the mouth of the senior counsel.”
At this the court got flared and ordered to withdraw itself from hearing the case. “I am not a sanyasi who will tolerate all this. Since yesterday we are hearing your abuses. This cannot go on,” Justice Agarwal said while transferring the case back to the CJI’s court.