The controversy over a tainted judge’s appointment reached former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s doors on Tuesday, with the BJP demanding answers and a PMO note revealing that Singh had intervened in the matter.
Singh broke his silence hours before the note was put out, but did not explain. “The then law minister HR Bhardwaj has explained everything. I have nothing more to add,” he said.
Press Council of India chairman justice Markandey Katju in a blog on Sunday said an additional judge of the Madras high court was appointed and given extension during the UPA regime despite corruption charges. The Singh government had acted under pressure from an alliance partner, said Katju, who served as the chief justice of the Madras HC and also as a Supreme Court judge.
Talking to HT on Monday, Bhardwaj had said Singh did not have anything to do with the judge’s appointment. He could not be contacted for his comments on Tuesday evening.
But law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Lok Sabha that the prime minister’s office had in June 2005 sought clarifications, asking why the judge’s case was not being processed.
Later in the evening, Times Now quoted a letter from V Vidyarthi, then a deputy secretary in the PMO, to the law ministry in June 2005, saying the PM wanted to know why the judge’s name had not been recommended.
Prasad told the House that the SC collegium, tasked with appointing judges to the top court and high courts, in its collective wisdom took a call that he need not be recommended at all.
“On July 16, 2005 to be precise, again a note went from the then department of justice with the approval of the then law minister indicating about certain sensitivity. Thereafter, a call was taken by the collegium that his case can be considered for some extension and he was made permanent,” the minister said.
The BJP stepped up the offensive against the Congress early in the day. “The former PM and Congress should come forward and answer the allegations of how different constitutional bodies, including judiciary, were misused for political reasons,” party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told reporters after the BJP’s parliamentary party meeting.
The Congress tried to shield the former PM, arguing that the government was entitled to raise a clarification but the decisions were clearly taken by the panel of judges headed by the Chief Justice of India. “So, why should the (former) Prime Minister explain the appointment of every judge?” senior party leader and former union minister M Veerappa Moily said.
Officials who had served in the Manmohan Singh PMO said it was not unusual for the office to seek clarifications from ministries on key appointments.
“In this case, there were complaints from (DMK) members of Parliament and minister that the judge was being targeted because he was Dalit… The PMO communication has to be seen in this context,” a former PMO official told HT on condition of anonymity.