Former Chief Justice of India (CJI) JS Verma on Monday contradicted former PM IK Gujral’s version on the appointment of his successor, Justice MM Punchhi, by making public a five-page letter he had written to Gujral in January 1998.
Gujral, in his autobiography Matters of Discretion, released last month, had charged Justice Verma of having consistently changed his stand “and faltered in his duty”, by failing to make the mandatory recommendation of his successor a month before his retirement.
Hitting out at Gujral, Justice Verma said, “I am disappointed that though the issue has been put in public domain, some of the facts have either been hidden or misrepresented.”
In his letter to Gujral a fortnight before he retired on 17 January 1998, Justice Verma wrote, “Justice MM Puncchi is the seniormost puisne judge of the SC. Some months back a representation has been made by come eminent advocates to the President of India, with copies to you and I, containing certain allegations against him.”
Justice Verma stated that out of the seven allegations mentioned against Justice Puncchi, five did not merit any serious consideration.
“The remaining two require examination.” These related to allotment of two plots at Chandigarh to Puncchi’s minor daughters in 1986, when he was a Punjab and Haryana HC judge, and a case being heard by him in SC about purchase of valuable property by his daughter and son-in-law in Chandigarh.
“Justice Puncchi met me and explained these allegations, so it was not possible for me to have given my opinion earlier,” Justice Verma wrote to Gujral.
He, however, also made some scathing observations in his letter to Gujral. “Maybe the better course for Justice Puncchi was not to hear the case even at the preliminary stage.”
The former CJI informed Gujral that since there was no “established procedure to deal with such a situation”, he was recommending Justice Punchhi’s name as his successor.
“There were allegations against him, which were made known to the government and I had no mechanism to get them probed, the question is why the government remained silent?”